Sometimes you wanna read and get effortlessly carried away. Othertimes you might want to get your mind blown by an incredible work of non-fiction.
At least I do, and judging by the success of recent books by Malcolm Gladwell and Steve Levitt, the Freakonomics guy, I’m not alone in that regard.
Reading non-fiction can sometimes be laborious, I’ll admit. But it’s worth it if you get taken on an intense intellectual journey of amazing surprises. And what is more mentally stimulating than seeing the world in a brand-new light?
1) Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
If you haven’t picked up a Malcolm Gladwell book, you’re in for a treat. The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, three of his books, explore psychology, sociology, and culture to answer intriguing questions. Outliers, my favorite of his books, seeks to examine why some individuals, such as Steve Jobs or Oprah Winfrey, are able to achieve such monumental success.
In exploring answers to this question, you learn some pretty unbelievable information about the birthdays of hockey players, behaviors in the cockpit of Korean airliners, and why rice farming creates brilliant mathematical cultures. Definitely a double-“whoa” on the Keanu meter.
2) Influence by Robert Cialdini
I mentioned Influence on my business book list, and to be perfectly honest, “whoa” may not be enough for this one. “Holy [expletive] [expletive],” spoken like a stoned frat boy, is probably more like it. Cialdini spent his career studying what persuades people to make purchasing decisions, and the ju-jitsu-like techniques employed against us in our consumer culture will astound you.
A must read for anyone who’s selling anything or doesn’t want to be at the mercy of Madison Avenue, or worse, con artists.
3) The Big Switch by Nicholas Carr
The Big Switch is, by far, the best book I’ve read on the subject of the Internet and how it’s transforming society. Carr explores the notion of the electric grid, only in use for over 100 years, and how vastly different our lives are as a result. He notes how electricity gave rise to movie theaters, radio, television, computers, and argues that with Internet “cloud” technologies, similiar leaps and bounds could occur.
A great book even for those who aren’t tech savvy but realize that we’re in the middle of a huge transformation and want to understand it. A tripple “whoa”. Carr’s 2010 The Shallowsis also a mind-boggling read.
4) Napoleon’s Buttons by Penny LeCouteur and Jay Burreson
It’s been theorized that the buttons on Napoleon’s soldiers topcoats and uniforms were a critical component in his defeat in Russia. The buttons were made of tin, which crumbles in cold temperatures. His soldiers, without proper protection and disintegrating uniforms in the cold Russian winter, were decimated.
Napoleon’s Buttons is a little known but wild book which tells the tale of 17 molecules, like tin, which changed the course of history. You’ll discover how Vitamin C helped chart the modern world, how nutmeg ended up giving the English the island of Manhattan, and other amazing cause-and-effect stories. A “whoa” and a half! (But take my advice – you may wanna skip over the little molecule diagrams unless you’re a hopeless geek).
And per my not inclusion of Freakonomics, it does have “whoa” moments, for sure, but it seemed rushed and half-baked to me, falling apart towards the end.
What about you? What book makes you go “whoa” like Keanu Reeves?