5 of the best books I read in 2019

 

1. Range – David Epstein.

Range is my 2019 winner. It was the best book I read last year, and one of my favorite books related to personal development ever. By range, Epstein refers to a set of broad experiences, inputs, interests, experiments, etc. In a world that values specialization and highlights the ‘10,000-hour rule’ (which says you must dedicate 10,000 hours to something to achieve mastery), Epstein argues that hyper-focus is actually not the path to success, far more often those who have range win. Epstein encourages us to pursue hobbies and interests, to be unafraid of making a change, to never feel behind, and not because life is more fun that way, it’s actually a more effective way to live. I can’t recommend it highly enough, read Range.

2. Atomic Habits – James Clear.

There are few personal development/self-improvement books that I consider must-read, but Atomic Habits is one of them. James Clear notes that winners and losers have the same goals, what sets them apart is their systems (habits). Humans operate by default and we relentlessly fail at improving ourselves because we fail to address our default behaviors. Goals are fine, they help give direction, but only our systems can take us where we want to go. Clear guides us through how habits operate and how to make meaningful and lasting changes by changing our defaults. It’s a fascinating and fun read, and one that has had a profound impact on how I think about behavior and pursue change.

3. Factfulness – Hans Rosling.

Hans Rosling made it his life’s mission to reinform commonly help misconceptions about our world. He penned Factfulness as he battled the cancer which would eventually take his life. Through ten chapters he addresses ten fascinating topics that we routinely misunderstand (world population, poverty, bias, etc.). He emphasizes the fact that the world can sometimes be bad, while still being significantly better than it was before. By offering clarity, thoughtfulness, and objective facts, Rosling helps us to see things they way they are. It’s occasionally mind-bending, which is a good thing, and always enjoyable.

4. Born a Crime – Trevor Noah.

Born a Crime is an autobiography. Trevor Noah takes us through his wild, funny, and unlikely childhood in one of the more engaging books I’ve ever read. It’s at times hilarious (I literally laughed out loud more than once), sentimental (his relationship with his mother is remarkable), thoughtful (interacting with apartheid in South Africa), and ultimately a completely rewarding read.

5. Billion Dollar Whale – Tom Wright.

Billion Dollar Whale consistently made my jaw drop as I read it. The story is absurd, unbelievable, scandalous, incredible, and completely true! It’s about a young Malaysian fancier/businessman (Jho Low) who cons billions of dollars from the Malaysian government in a stream of devious business deals and spends it on some of the most extravagant partying the world has ever seen. The story involves Hollywood actors and actresses, world-leading finance companies, even the president of the United States. Another interesting part of this story (as if it wasn’t interesting enough) is that it hasn’t concluded yet. Jho Low is currently a wanted man hiding out, most believe, in China, but is certainly still active. In fact, his team of lawyers aggressively campaigned to ban Billion Dollar Whale from being sold, and succeeded to keep the book off British bookshelves for a year! Truly, a remarkable read.

Why I switched back to physical books

For the last three years or so I have been ravenously building and reading my Kindle library. I love reading and I love iPads, and I really loved putting the two together. But, the title gives it away, I’m switching back to normal physical books. Here are some quick pros and cons to Kindle books, and why I decided to go back.

 

Pros:

  • Convenience. The fact that one portable device can store thousands of books, literally an entire library, is compelling, and super convenient. My iPad, or at least my iPhone, is always with me so the books are always available. No packing, remembering, planning, nothing. They’re all always with me.
  • Not physical. The books are electronic, which means no maintenance. I never worry about spilling coffee on a book (although that might have been worse on an iPad), ripping a page, drool from my children, or any other thing that would ruin a book. Their general well-being is never a concern, they’re always in mint condition. An iPad can obviously sustain some serious damage too, but even if my iPad was destroyed or lost, the books would still be there to download on the next device.
  • Easy to organize. The direct sync between Kindle and Goodreads is a helpful feature. My Goodreads profile and book tracking is always up to date without ever logging in to Goodreads. Kindle also uses Collections, which basically function like tags, and I love tags.

 

Cons:

  • Progress as a percentage. I found myself constantly tracking that stupid number. I’ll admit, it could be a personal problem, maybe you can ignore the numbers, but they’re pasted right on the cover of each book. I can’t stop paying attention to them. I get immersed so much more easily in a physical book.
  • It’s distracting to read on a device. The percentages are distracting, but that’s only where the distractions begin. If you’re reading on any type of tablet or phone there’s a pull to check email, look something up online, or get a quick game in. I would suddenly remember something in the middle of reading and, since a little computer was in my hands, I would just switch over to quickly take care of the thing I forgot. Even if every notification and connection setting is turned off, you still can’t turn off the capability. The counter-point to this is to use an e-reader of some sort because they don’t have all that capability. While they seem to be a great solution for many people, I have found them lacking for a few reasons. 1) They have small screens, six inches is too small. 2) The e-ink flashes every time a page turns, talk about distracting. 3) Books lose any distinguishing characteristics, even more so than in the Kindle app. 4) They’re made of plastic. 5) They’re boring! If I’m going to read books on a device, give me an iPad with all the capability it comes with, distracting as it may be.
  • What happens if Amazon goes out of business? This could be stupid, but I get a little nervous that someday my library won’t be accessible. Companies go out of business all the time. There would probably still be some way for people to keep their electronic copies, but I, for one, am not interested in watching it play out.
  • I missed seeing my whole library. It’s exciting to scan an entire shelf of books and pick one out. When a Kindle library grows the only option to find books is to type titles in the search bar or get scrolling. The library feels hidden.
  • The human element. I’m human, I like to touch and feel and see and smell things. iPads and e-readers are great, but they make every book feel and look and read the same. Books lose some of their personality that way. You can develop a sort of connection with a physical book that isn’t possible when you read it on a device. I guess my point is that books are personal, and that’s important.
  • I have young kids. Studies have shown that households with books raise more literate and successful children. Interestingly, this specific study found that 350 books in a household is a kind of threshold. The benefit for children rose with the number of books in their house until they hit 350, then the benefit leveled off. 350 books appears to be enough to saturate the home, there will be books lying around on end tables and shelves, they’ll be in each person’s room, they’ll be visible all over. I started reading normal books again before coming across this article, but you can bet I counted right away to ensure we had over 350. Besides the study, I’ve noticed an interesting change in my own house since I recommitted to physical books about three months ago. The kids have begun to read more. When they saw me on an iPad they had no idea if I was reading a book or playing a game or whatever, they just wanted to play on an iPad too. There’s something about a Dad’s example that seems to inspire kids, they watch and copy. It’s not like rules changed three months ago, but the example changed, and it has made a noticeable difference.

All told I have no regrets returning to a library of physical books. What I miss most about using a Kindle library is the convenience, it’s a bit of an adjustment carrying books around again, but the advantages have far outweighed the extra weight in my bag.