Best Reads of 2018

By Ryan Barton | January 2, 2019

Recommended reads from 2018

I love to read. No matter how much time I spend reading, I always wish for more… It’s how I learn, as a leader, improve as a human being, encounter great minds and thoughts, both satisfy and spark curiosity, grow.

I read an eclectic array of books and am often asked for recommendations. As I have reviewed 2018 and set fresh reading goals for 2019, here are the 14 best books I read in 2018, in no particular order:

1. Extreme Ownership (Leadership)
Written by two former Navy Seals turned leadership & business consultants, this book is a must-read for anyone looking to develop leadership skills or advance a company culture. The book is a series of leadership lessons each of which include a war story, a business story and an explanation of the principle. It is an engaging read, and the principles are right on; each must be a part of every successful business culture and individual leader.

2. Arrival (or Story of Your Life and Other Stories) (Sci-Fi)
A collection of short stories by Ted Chiang, this is sci-fi at its best. The stories have racked up numerous high-profile sci-fi awards, and for good reason. Each is thought provoking, fascinating, eloquent, and thematic. One of the stories became the basis for the 2016 film Arrival.

3. Future Crimes (Cybersecurity)
Written by a law enforcement-turned-futurist author, Future Crimes is a realistic, detailed, fact-driven work exposing how cybercrime works today, and how drastically it will shape our future. A solid read for anyone interested in understanding how this force will shape our not-too-distant future.

4. 1491 (History)
Recent discoveries have caused historians to rethink what the “New World” looked like in 1492. The civilizations that rose and fell in southern and northern America were greater than their “Old World” counterparts in numerous ways, and they have rich histories that have been all but forgotten. We have had very little recognition of the immensity, quality, and development of the Western Hemisphere just before Columbus landed. A fascinating read.

5. The New Testament (Religious)
The greatest bestseller of all time, worth reading each year. Its teachings are so instrumental that it changed the world and forever shaped our understanding of individuality, morality, and the soul. If you believe it points to the Divine Author, as I do, then you spend your life learning it. If you don’t, you still can’t escape its radical upending of humanity, broad influence, and deep wisdom. Note: This year, I read it in a “Bibliotecha” edition that eliminates chapter and verse numbers and headings, and the Bible is printed on normal paper in multiple cloth bound volumes. I found it much easier to spend longer times reading – it felt natural to read an entire book of the Bible at once and I highly recommend it.

6. Dreamland (Sociology)
A sobering look at the forces and actors that have led to our nationwide opioid epidemic, one that hits close to home for all of us in New Hampshire. The book (at times repetitively) traces the dramatic reversal by the medical field on prescribing opiates, the companies who trumpeted false statistics to mislead an entire industry, the insurance policies that encouraged over-prescribing, and the rise of black tar heroin and other street drugs as prescriptions were ultimately pulled back. Deeply troubling but necessary to understand what is impacting our communities.

7. The Challenger Sale (Business)
Finally, a sales book I can recommend! It articulated much of what we believe at Mainstay and turns typical sales approach upside-down. Clients want to be informed, respected, and trained to make wise decisions. Not badgered, hugged, or cajoled into a sale. Well worth the read for anyone responsible for any level of sales – especially executives.

8. Measure What Matters (Business)
Written by wildly successful venture capitalist John Doerr, it outlines a management system for goal setting and organization accountability first developed at Intel, then honed at Google and numerous other organizations. Called OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), it is an elegant, light-weight way of aligning an organization and establishing rhythms for strategic planning and fast development in an organization. A philosophy we agree with and system we employ at Mainstay.

9. 12 Rules for Life (Psychology and Morality)
A book that will change the way you look at the world. A book that defies categorization in many ways, 12 Rules for Life is endlessly fascinating, thought-provoking, and clear. While Dr. Peterson’s writing can seem to stray from the topic at hand, he brings his rich perspective to bear on a variety of topics – looking at both the macro (impact on society and changing culture) and micro level (concrete things for me to believe and areas for me to change).

10. Factfulness (Statistics/Worldview)
You and I are wrong about how we view the world, and this book sets us straight. Across nearly every country, the world is far better than we realize, and it is getting better each year by nearly every measure. A needed, realistic antidote to the endless negative news stories. If you are interested in understanding how the world is likely to change in coming decades, and what life is like outside the American bubble, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

11. The Vocation of Business (Business/Morality)
A little-known book (buy it used), The Vocation of Business charts the development of economic theory and compares with religious social teaching on business. It challenges our deeply held economic beliefs and preconceived notions (on both the right and the left). For anyone who believes business is supposed to be about more than creating dizzying wealth for founders and investors, and who is eager to wrestle with a deeper understanding of economics, I strongly recommend this book. As an entrepreneur committed to businesses that create good for all, who measure their impact, and who answer to a higher calling than solely the bottom line, I found it deeply encouraging and informative.

12. Family Happiness and Other Stories (Literature)
A collection of stories by Leo Tolstoy, this book is a great and easily approachable introduction to Russian literature. At times heart-wrenchingly sad, this collection of 7 stories was written throughout his life and shows Tolstoy’s evolution of thought on a variety of topics, through very Russian, very eloquent short stories.

13. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Worldview/Religious)
The vast majority of we Americans are wealthy, by comparison (estimates are that a $35,000 income places one in the top 1% of the world!). What is our responsibility with this wealth? How do our economic choices and policies impact the rest of the world? Is our consumption good for the world or harmful? And what is the moral response for each of us to do individually, as well as how should this inform government policy? This update to a 1978 version of the book is convicting and compelling to anyone who desires to care for their neighbor.

14. How Google Works (Business)
Google is a fascinating company. This book, written by former CEO Eric Schmidt and former SVP of Products Jonathan Rosenbeg, this gives an insiders look at the way Google has scaled so incredibly. The most fascinating book I’ve read yet on scaling. Google’s founders applied their engineering brilliance to the challenges of scaling a company, with unprecedented results.

A few thoughts on reading:

My 2018 goal was to read an average of a book a week. Personally, it was a busy year, as Mainstay grew over 20%, and my wife and I started the year with three children under 3 (they turned, 1, 2, and 3 in 2018 and are more precious, fun, and treasured than you can imagine). Despite the busyness, I finished a total of 64 books in the year.
What I find is that the more I read, the more I want to read. But reading seriously takes prioritization above all else. It had to be more important to me than TV, more important than zoning out, more important than sleeping in.

Beyond that, it took some practiced intentionality. If you are looking to read more, here are a few things I found helpful:

  • Have a dedicated place to read. A comfortable chair, a sofa, a room that can become a library, that is used only for reading. No electronics allowed. The pull of the physical place can prompt more hours of reading. I love physical, paper books and the tactile feel of reading, so I have a room in my house filled with bookshelves to hold the books, that we call a library. It includes shelves for the kids and encourages all of us to read more.
  • Have books on hand. If you read physical books, buy a number in advance. I have a shelf with over 50 titles I haven’t read yet – I look at it daily, and the pull of all those incredible books is powerfully motivating.
  • Notice the benefits of reading. I find reading is far more fulfilling to my soul, restful to my mind, and encouraging to my life than TV watching. Paying attention to these benefits creates a natural desire to read, instead of turning on the TV.
  • To practically substitute more reading time for TV time, as a show ends, replace that time with books. I used to follow multiple TV shows. Now, I’m down to 1 or 2 and am reading more, which serves my life dramatically better.
  • Read engaging books. Don’t be afraid to have multiple books going at once (typically, this is good advice if they are different types of books. It can be difficult to have multiple novels or books on a similar subject) and then read the one you want to. I have been in the middle of a collection of essays by David Foster Wallace for about 6 months now…
  • Schedule a “reading day.” I first tried this in 2018 and now am hooked. Get a stack of books, take the day off, and treat it like a workday, focused on reading, with nothing but urgent interruptions. Fantastic way to work through some more challenging material.
  • Track your books. Having a goal, and writing each title down to track progress is rewarding. Share the list on Goodreads to engage with others in a community for extra encouragement!

Reading is a way of learning from brilliant teachers. Of encountering other times and cultures. Of expanding one’s horizons. Of being edified and built up. And of providing the context needed for innovation.

Here’s to 2019, may we all enjoy great books!