My Favorite Books from 2017

Over the years, I will often launch the new year by posting some of my favorite books I read from the past year. These aren’t the only ones I digested this year, but these are ones I’ve recommended to leaders, educators, parents, coaches and employers—people I’ve met as I travel. Below are some of the best books I read in 2017.

Braving the Wilderness, by Brene Brown

Brene Brown has become one of my favorite authors over the last five years. She’s a research professor at the University of Houston, and she writes about vulnerability, empathy, authenticity, shame and courage. This book is about balancing our need to belong to a community but maintain our ability to be ourselves. She summarizes her research on the bravest people saying: “People are hard to hate up close. Move in. We must speak truth to B.S. Be civil. We must hold hands. With strangers. We must have a strong back. A soft front. A wild heart.” This book will challenge your humanity.

The Inevitable, by Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of Wired Magazine, has written a memorable book that will both excite you and give you pause. The book is about the twelve technological forces that will shape our future. He includes much about artificial intelligence, the fact that screens will be everywhere in our homes and we will watch them, while they are watching us. He talks about the fact that almost every possession we own will be smart, including our clothes, our cars and our homes. A few of the twelve forces Kelly talks about in this book are predictable, but most of them represent big changes to our lifestyle. This book was one of several resources I used in researching for my book, Marching Off the Map. I loved it.

iGen, by Jean Twenge

The sub-title for this book says it all: Why today’s super-connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy and completely unprepared for adulthood—and what that means for the rest of us. Jean Twenge is an author who’s specialized in helping adults understand the challenges of the emerging generation. She wrote Generation Me, which outlined the rising narcissism among Millennials. This book is all about the following generation, the one many refer to as Generation Z. Jean demonstrates they are not just an extension of Gen Y, revealing the significant differences in their approach to work, education and family. Very helpful.

The Triple Package, Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld

Every now and then, I read a book that challenges conventional wisdom and psychology. This was such a book for me this year. It is about society and culture and how we grew into the current realities we experience today. Amy and Jed talk about how three unlikely traits—superiority, insecurity and impulse control—explain the rise and fall of cultural groups in America. The book gets specific illustrating how the Mormon, Cuban, Nigerian and Chinese communities have risen above the fray and achieved astonishing business success. This book will make you think and question.

Sum It Up, by Pat Summit

This book is Coach Pat Summit’s autobiography. I loved it because it tells a great story. Pat Summit was both a simple and complex leader, woman, coach, colleague and mother. She won eight national championships for the Lady Vols basketball team at the University of Tennessee, winning 1,098 games. She won an Arthur Ashe Courage Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, NCAA Coach of the Year several years and even a Glamor Woman of the Year award. Pat was both a supportive and demanding leader. I love biographies and this one was my favorite this year.

Thank You for Being Late, by Thomas Friedman

This is not the first book by Thomas Friedman I’ve read. Do you remember The World Is Flat? Friedman makes you think, and this title was inspired by the times people who asked for a meeting with him showed up late. At first, Friedman was frustrated, understandably. Over time, however, he noticed all he could learn during those minutes he had alone, waiting for his appointment. It’s the margins in our day when unplanned growth occurs. My biggest take-aways were developing my ability to be adaptive, when people or situations demand it; to reflect in times of fast-paced change, and turning AI (artificial intelligence) into IA (intelligent algorithms). If you decide to read this book, get ready to think—long and hard.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System, by Diane Ravitch

This book was one I spotted in my travels and, upon reading it, I felt I had a divine appointment with the author. In the chapters, Diane Ravitch argues against so many of the faddish education reform ideas making their way around the country. She argues for our public school system and the educators and students who fill them. Diane takes a position contrary to the one I have held for years, and while I still see things slightly differently, she makes such a great case for the public schools that millions of K-12 students attend each year, including why testing and choice are undermining education. Sometimes I need to read books or listen to speakers who see realities from a different perspective than me. This was one of those books. I am a better thinker—and hopefully educator—thanks to this book.

Barking to the Choir, by Gregory Boyle

This book was recommended to me by my friend, Steve Moore, toward the end of the year. I am so glad he suggested it. What a refreshing book! Greg Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries, serving former gang members in Los Angeles. He is a Jesuit Priest who connects so well with gang members, drug addicts and those who live and work the streets. I just finished the book in a matter of days—and I both laughed and cried as I read the stories and conversations Father Boyle has had with men who are trying to develop life skills and work skills to get off the streets and contribute to society. (The title was inspired by one of his mentees who confused two phrases: “barking up the wrong tree” and “preaching to the choir.”) Greg is a former NY Times bestselling author of Tattoos on the Heart, so he’s already known for his work on the streets. The book will inspire hope and shake up your ideas about people.

Exponential Organizations, by Salim Ismail

This book has come into its time. Salim Ismail lays out the case for why new organizations are ten times better, faster and cheaper than established ones, and what leaders can do to change. Salim explains that over the last five years, the business world has seen the birth of a new breed of company (one that he calls the exponential organization) that has revolutionized how people can accelerate their growth via technology. Growth doesn’t have to be incremental; it can be exponential once leaders understand the new rules that govern our world of commerce today. It’s how Mark Zuckerberg took Facebook to a billion-dollar enterprise in less than a decade. Or Reed Hastings took Netflix and built it into a giant in less than a decade. This book forced me to rethink how I look at leading organizations today.

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Special ends: Sunday, January 7th at midnight.

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My Favorite Books from 2017