The 15 Most Memorable Books I Read in 2016

Why most memorable?

Because “best” and “top” in my opinion aren’t really helpful when it comes to book recommendations. Some books make an impact. Some don’t. These did.

As you’ll see, many of these books were not published this year. A few were holdovers from last year that I never got to and a few more were books that I’ve always wanted to read that I finally got around to.

I started many more books than you’ll see here but I didn’t finish them. Life’s too short to spend time with a crappy book. I also finished a few more books but looking back I barely remember anything about them. These books, as the title reads, are memorable. Here we go:

Shoe Dog – Phil Knight

This was my favorite book and a tie for most memorable. I absolutely loved this book. If it were fiction I’d have still loved it, but the fact that it’s true makes it ten times better. If I had to recommend one book on this list it would be Shoe Dog. I wrote a longer post about this book HERE after I read it, but it’s inspiring, extremely entertaining as a story, gives an inside look at one of the world’s most recognizable brands, and is full of instantly classic characters, who happen to be real people. Read it.

River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey – Candice Millard

Imagine if a few years from now, Barack Obama, as an ex-president, decided to cut himself off from civilization to lead an expedition to chart an unknown river of the Amazon for over a year. Now imagine it’s almost 100 years ago and you don’t have any modern technology to help you navigate, communicate or eat. You have no Under Armour cold gear or Goretex or elite sleeping bags or even bug spray. You have nothing. Teddy Roosevelt took on this challenge a few years after his presidency ended. This is one of the most incredible true stories of exploration and survival I have ever read…and it’s a about an ex-President of the United States. Also, Millard became one of my favorite writers over the last few years. Every story she tells is superb.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing Marie Condo

I’ll just come right out and say it: this book changed my life. Now, I’m not saying that in a way that is overblown and hyperbolic just to get you to think it will change your life, but in the truest sense of the phrase, it changed my life. It changed how I think of “stuff”. It changed how I viewed my belongings. It changed my perceptions of the things I had accumulated throughout my lifetime.

I owe my buddy Brett McKay over at one of my favorite websites, ArtofManliness.com, for this one. He had Condo on his podcast to talk about the book and she was fantastic.  She also opened my eyes to an entirely new way of thinking regarding storage, what I kept around me, and whether or not I truly had any rational reason behind why I kept things.

Also, the podcast came at the perfect time. I listened to it and bought the book about three months before my family and I were moving. I recommend this book even if you aren’t moving because there are phrases in it that will free you from lugging around a bunch of things with you for no reason that you can justify.

The number one takeaway for me came from a tip that Condo gives regarding how to decide if you should keep something or not. In a nutshell, she says to grab the item and hold it in front of you with one deciding factor/question in mind: Does this item bring you joy?

If “yes” doesn’t immediately pop into your head, then get rid of the item. It’s a mind-changing philosophy that I have carried over into many others aspects of my life, from deciding whether to participate in things or what to write or even how I should exercise. After all, if it doesn’t bring you joy, why do it in the first place? And if the answer is, because you have to, then maybe you need to rethink why you have to and figure out a way to make that “have to” thing something that brings you joy.

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution – Walter Isaacson

I’m a complete and total technology idiot, yet I use so many awesome tech devices I can barely keep track. My knowledge of how any of this stuff works is less than pathetic. If I was learning magic powers like Doctor Strange, I’d be forever making circular motions with my hand, like some mime drawing a tire. I’d never create a spark. If I got put on Mount Everest, I’d high five the ghost of Tenzing Norgay and prepare for the afterlife. In short, I know nothing.

The Innovators is the story of technology from the written word to the Rennaisance to the first tabulators to vacuum tubes to ones and zeroes to where we are today. Some of the names I had heard of. Most I hadn’t. And even though I learned a few things about how we went from the Stone Age to Siri in what is merely a few seconds on the cosmic clock, I still only know how to unplug my DirecTV, wait one minute, and plug it back in if something happens to the signal, but at least I know a few of the names along the way that made TiVo possible.

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West – Stephen Ambrose

I’ve lived in or spent significant time in about a dozen states, with the top half-dozen in terms of years being Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Virginia, Texas and Florida. Each time I move somewhere new I think about what the land must have been like before anybody got there. But for some reason, when I moved to Texas, the sheer size of the country and the rolling terrain made we want to read about the first settlers to my new home state.

As I did research about what to read, at the top of almost every list about books regarding the early exploration of the United States was Ambrose’s masterpiece about the Lewis and Clark expedition, Undaunted Courage. So I abandoned my search for a book about the history of Texas for the time being and read this.

I have no idea how this book is not required reading for every single US history course. It seems criminal that I took several US history classes in college and this book was never recommended, at least not as supplementary reading. What Lewis and Clarke achieved was nothing short of astonishing. How they survived, the obstacles they surmounted and the fact that that they actually completed the mission, with little-to-no-knowledge of the land in front of them is beyond me.

In many ways, this book is a perfect compliment to The Innovators. That book showed how we can hit Google Maps on our phone and get directions to anywhere in the world instantaneously, with a robot voice to lead us, while Undaunted Courage showed us how a group of men with nothing but their brains, their brawn and guts made the 3,000 mile journey across the US on horseback and on foot and on rivers and over and through mountains.

From their encounters with Indians, to their eating 8 pounds of meat a day at one point, to their battling starvation down the road, to the constant illness, to the threat of attack, to the river navigation, to the sheer logistics of the trip and Lewis’ close relationships and feuds with some of the most prominent men of his era, this book should be read by anyone looking to gain a larger appreciation of what men with dreams and gumption and the proper leadership can achieve.

The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph / The Daily Stoic – Ryan Holiday

This book made the rounds a few years ago because New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick and Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll both read it, along with several other big names in pro sports. I was familiar with Holiday’s work from Trust Me, I’m Lying and some of his blogging… I’ve also received his newsletter/reading list for a while, which I highly recommend you sign up for. In fact, I think two of the books on this list were recommended by Holiday.

Holiday’s book serves as a blueprint for how some of the most successful people in history have turned defeat, failure and frustration into wild success. The bedrock of much of the thinking in this book is Stoicism, which is a philosophical practice that is fairly different from what you may think it is.

Obstacle is a very fast read and maybe one of the best things I can say about it is that you end up wanting to find out more about the people he writes about and the strategies they employed. After reading this I bought his other book, The Daily Stoic, which takes the principles he talks about in Obstacle and boils them down to simple, bite-sized daily reads that anyone can use.

Gunslinger – Jeff Pearlman

This is the definite biography of Brett Favre by one of the best sports biographers in the business, Jeff Pearlman. It’s fantastic and Pearlman’s vintage, exhaustive research comes through on too many occasions to account. Favre’s upbringing has an almost mythical status. For some reason I kept thinking of Jane Leavy’s book on Mickey Mantle, The Last Boy, while reading this, because for all of the cliche about Favre “looking like a kid out there” on the field, there is an unmistakeable sense of boyish awesomeness about his story. It’s almost like the movie Big, except instead of working at a toy company, Favre got to play in the NFL, and instead of choosing to go back to being a kid like Josh Baskin, Favre said “screw it”, this life is too much fun, and decided to stay an adult. A must-read for football fans.

Boys Among Men – Jonathan Abrams

LeBron. KG. Kobe. Dwight Howard. At one point all of these guys were just really tall 14-year-olds with promising hoops skills. This is the behind-the-scenes story of the path these boys took to NBA stardom. But what makes this book truly memorable are the heartbreaking stories of the guys you don’t know about. If you’re not an NBA fan, then it goes without saying that this book won’t do much for you… But if you are, and you remember what a huge deal it was for Garnett to be drafted right out of high school, and you remember the hype surrounding LeBron and Tracy McGrady as teenagers, and you remember the awful stories about Kwame Brown not being able to adjust to the League, then you have to dive into this book. Fifty pages will fly by before you even know it.

Voices in the Ocean: A Journey Into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins – Susan Casey

At this point, I can’t tell if Susan Casey is one of my favorite writers because she writes about things I like (surfing, the ocean, dolphins) or because she’s always writing from places I want to live (the beach, Hawaii) or because she’s just an awesome storyteller – but it’s safe to say I love her books. Devil’s Teeth, about great white sharks, is as vivid in my mind today as it was when I read it about four years ago. This book feels like it will have the same effect.

100% of the time people ask the question about what kind of animal you’d be if you were an animal, my answer is “a dolphin”. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a swimmer my whole life and dolphins are so damn cool, but it’s been my answer for as long as I can remember. This book actually makes me want to be a dolphin more…as long as I don’t have to endure some of the horrors and torture that it’s revealed they suffer through at SeaWorld and in countries who mercilessly hunt them around the globe.

In fact, I’ll probably never go to a SeaWorld again. Or have anything to do with swimming with dolphins in captivity or anything like that. I’ll spare you the atrocities that people commit, but if half this book deals with falling in love with dolphin and explaining why they’re essentially humans with fins, the other half deals with how far people go out of their way to torment them. Casey’s writing is phenomenal, as usual, and if you love the ocean, you should really read all of her books and finish with this one.

Alexander Hamilton – Ron Chernow

I wrote an extended review of this book and Alexander Hamilton as a ghostwriter HERE, so I won’t repeat myself. Suffice to say, this book was on my must-read list for a long time and I finally tackled it over the course of a few business trips this year. It was absolutely well worth it.

Between the World and MeTa-Nehisi Coates

I read this book because of Captain America: Civil War. Some of you will know why. Others not. If you don’t, let me connect the dots. One of the best characters in that movie was the Marvel super hero Black Panther. He was amazing. So amazing, in fact, that he’s getting his own move. When I was doing a little Googling about who was involved, I discovered that Coates was writing it. I also remembered that Coates wrote a book that won all kinds of awards last year that I had meant to check out.

That book was Between the World and Me. Coates is a really strong writer. This book has been politicized and deconstructed and critiqued by people all over the media, due its topic, which is Coates’ life and his story of growing up in America. I have no interest in getting into all of that here.

What I will say is that Coates wrote a memorable story that will get you thinking. After thinking, you may come out disagreeing completely with its theme…or you may agree 100%… But the point is, he will make you think, which is the sign of any memorable book.

End of Watch –  Stephen King

I don’t read much fiction, but when I do, I read Stephen King. As far as I’m concerned, he saved me from a life of miserable reading. My post on that is HERE. This is the end of a trilogy that started with Mr. Mercedes a few years ago that I slowly found myself getting addicted to. It’s typical King, with relatable, yet charismatic characters, good dialogue, suspense and enough paranormal to keep you spooked. Not in his pantheon by any means, but there are about a half-dozen scenes that have stayed with me long after I finished the book.

Batman: The Killing Joke – Alan Moore and Brian Bolland

I plopped down in a Barnes & Noble over the summer and someone left this on a table nearby. I had always wanted to read it and I began flipping through it out of curiosity. About an hour and a half later, I was hooked. This book is a character-driven masterpiece. It’s everything you want to know about the Joker and more. It almost reads like a psyche profile at times, or a flashback, or even a case study on insanity… But it is without question brilliant and entertaining and somehow portrays the Joker as sick and evil and almost sympathetic at the same time. This one isn’t for everyone, but it was for me and well worth it.

Tools of TitansTim Ferriss

This book is not meant to be read all at once…or even to be read in its entirety. Ferris says this right up front. As with his other books, this is essentially a buffet of brilliant information that you can choose from. I have found the opening section on health to be the most useful and helpful because right now that’s what I was looking for information on… Specifically, I’ve been trying to solve a few flexibility and posture issues.

The section with Amelia Boone at the very start of the book has already paid huge dividends. I have literally solved a problem in my left shoulder with her advice to use a Rumble Roller and a few other things she suggests.

The list of of other luminaries (Titans) that Ferriss has gone to for their tips, tricks and tools to achieve higher performance may be the best ever assembled, with chapters on everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Navy SEALS to billionaire investors and tech guys. Like I said, I’m focusing on the health section right now and some of the advice helped immediately, including a new stretching routine that has completely gotten rid of a tweak I had in my lower back from sitting too much. I’m sure you’ll find little hacks and solutions for nagging problems as well.

 

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