best books of 2016

As the world gets ready to celebrate the end of 2016 and look forward to 2017 with optimism, most of us book nerds are counting how many books we have read this year, how that compares to last year and how many we plan on reading in 2017.  You know who you are.  I felt this would be a great time to reflect on some of the best books of 2016.  To do this, I have reached back out to a handful of our most popular guests so far.  I would have loved to have spoken with all of our guests, but this year we have published over 120 reading lists!  I have asked these select few to tell me what their single favourite book of the year was and why.  Some found it difficult to pick just one (I’m looking at you Michael Shermer) – but we have ended up with an eclectic and wonderful list of books to add to your Amazon wish lists.  Please enjoy this compilation, and comment below to tell me what your favourite new book of 2016 was.

gritJon Gordon – author and speaker.

Grit by Angela Duckworth.

Grit is the number one predictor and factor of success. I have lived a life of grit and have also worked with many teams and organizations on the topic. It’s one of my favorite things to talk about and Angela is the foremost researcher and pioneer in this field of study. It’s a book everyone should read.

Check out Jon’s full reading list here, and explore his work here.

Juliette Kayyem – author and podcast host.

american heiressAmerican Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin.

I grew up in L.A. in the 1970s and 1980s. The Hearst saga was always in the background of discussions about the unique status California played in the strange and macabre politics of the time, but it wasn’t until Toobin’s book that I understood the seriousness of the kidnapping, the background of the SLA, and the compassion of her father.

Hearst herself — an enigma in so many ways, only known to me through that photo of her in a beret carrying a gun — is treated fairly by Toobin, but there is no doubt how history should judge her.  A throw back to the 1970s, a detailed accounting of the crime of a decade, and a psychological thriller about the day’s terrorists of the time, it is a book that was fulfilling until the last pages.

Check out Juliette’s full reading list here, and explore her work here.

David Garcia-Gonzalez – entrepreneur and author.

shoe dogShoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE by Phil Knight.

Phil details the many risks and setbacks that stood between him and his dream – along with his early triumphs. He begins with his journey at 24 when he borrowed $50 from his father to start a business.  A memoir rich with insight, humour and hard-won wisdom, this book is also studded with lessons about building something from scratch, overcoming adversity, and ultimately leaving your mark on the world.  Nike’s rise to the top was painfully slow at times, but Phil hung in there. It shows how belief is paramount to make things happen. It’s easy for business owners to become impatient, success can take time and be a grind.  There is so much inspiration to be uncovered within the pages, an absolute must read!

Check out David’s full reading list here, and explore his work here.

Andrew Klavan – author, screenwriter and podcast host.

secondhand timeSecondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich.

It’s a series of interviews with people who survived the fall of the Soviet Union only to watch the evil empire’s component parts devolve into kleptocracy and tribal warfare. The way Alexievich assembles the interviews turns them into a tragic poem about the way a false ideology can distort the human spirit. I’m a religious man and, for myself, I couldn’t help feeling I was looking at the wreckage of a nation that had banished God. No doubt others will see it otherwise, but it would be impossible to miss its tragic beauty as a work of art.

Check out Andrew’s full reading list here, and explore his work here.

when in frenchLeah Walker – travel writer and photographer.

When in French: Love in a Second Language by Lauren Collins.

Written by a journalist who marries a Frenchman and lives in Geneva, it’s a look into relationships and cross-cultural confusion. It’s not only well-written, but puts many of my thoughts and struggles into coherent thoughts. “Talking to you in English is like touching you with gloves,” says her husband. What a vivid description of what it’s like to be with someone who doesn’t natively speak your language.

Check out Leah’s full reading list here, and explore her work here.

the gardener and the carpenterMichael Shermer – writer and editor in chief.

The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells us about the Relationship Between Parents and Children by Alison Gopnik.

Gopnik is one of the preeminent psychologists of child development and cognition of our time and this book is a marvelous summary of what we know about cognitive development, child rearing, parenting, and related topics. She’s a wonderful prose stylist who weaves anecdotes, including personal stories from her life, with studies, data, and theory.

against empathyAgainst Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion by Paul Bloom.

This is a brilliant debunking of the myth/meme circulating culture the past decade, which is that if only people could learn to be more empathic we could end war, strife, conflict, racism, sexism, and bigotry of all types. Not so says Bloom, the Yale psychologist who has emerged the past few years as one of the most interesting minds working in the social sciences today. He not only summarizes a massive amount of data on the study of empathy, but draws out the moral implications for what we really need to do to continue bending the arc of the moral universe: temper our empathic emotions with reason (and, I would add, science, which is a type of reason).

the big pictureThe Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself by Sean Carroll.

Carroll is a big picture thinker so his summations of the various aspects of the physical world that he deals with for a living as a physicist come tethered to the deeper philosophical implications that lie behind the theories. Although one may not agree with Carroll on all of his conclusions about what meaning and purpose we can draw from science (some will argue he goes too far philosophically and ethically, whereas I would argue that he doesn’t go far enough), his take on the big picture will make you rethink your positions, and that’s almost always a good thing.

Check out Michael’s full reading list here, and explore his work here.

when breath becomes airJoe Navarro – author and speaker.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.

Every once in a while we need to look at a story that has no joyous ending; and yet, by giving us insight into the transformation and experiences of one less fortunate, it brings us one step closer to humanity, to empathy, to understanding, and in a way to prepare us for our own journey, wherever that may take us.

Check out Joe’s full reading list here, and explore his work here.

Laura Vanderkam – author and speaker.

the course of loveThe Course of Love by Alain de Botton.

I really enjoyed Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love. This novel looks at what happens after the “they lived happily ever after” moment in fairy tales. A young couple meets, falls in love, and marries. Then, they fight about everything, deal with money issues, raise two ornery children, and one of them has an affair. And yet they still stay together and commit to making their marriage work. This is a real love story. Love is not about finding the perfect person. It’s about finding the best person willing to settle for you, and then deciding to face life together, even if it would be easier not to. While occasionally de Botton’s philosophizing gets to be a bit much, his characters are so well drawn that the reader can’t help cheering for their ultimate happiness.

Check out Laura’s full reading list here, and explore her work here.

originalsAlec Ross – author, advisor and founder.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant.

Adam Grant’s myth-busting book takes us inside the heads of the people who shape the world with their innovations. Originals couples the academic rigor one would expect from a highly-regarded member of the Wharton faculty with the story-telling and delight one would expect from a magician. Adam Grant is both, and this book is a revelation.

Check out Alec’s full reading list here, and explore his work here.

Brendan Fernandes – artist.

before picturesBefore Pictures by Douglas Crimp.

I have chosen Before Pictures as my top book pick of 2016. Playing with the title of Crimp’s famous publication Picture Generation, this book tells the narrative of the art critic’s life and personal engagement with New York city. Part biography and part cultural document, the book has personal resonance for me as it deals with the advent of a particular art and cultural scene—New York in the 1960s and 70s—which continues to affect me as an artist who has lived and contributed to present day New York City. In this book the life of the author is on view, and in its unfolding we are privy to personal experiences such as his involvement with gay counterculture; AIDS activism; partying with Andy Warhol; and working as a curatorial assistant at the Guggenheim. Throughout this text Crimp offers us a look into his social life and formative experiences in honest and venerable ways. While weaving a historical narrative that illustrates a past New York, he also shows how these moments continue to shape contemporary counterculture, and contribute to the canon of Contemporary Art.

Check out Brendan’s full reading list here, and explore his work here.


Bari Tessler – author and financial therapist.

the light of the worldThe Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander.

The Light of the World is a memoir and yet it’s rhythmic and feels like poetry. This memoir is about the author’s husband, who was born in Africa, came to the states to become a beloved chef, painter, husband, father, friend and who died at the age of 50, during their 16th year of marriage.  At this time, their sons were only 12 and 13 years old.  It is their story of love and beauty and her story of grief and life. I’m not sure I have ever read anything like this before and I read a lot of memoirs. I’ve read books about grief that were so sad or depressing that there was no joy at all – which I can really understand. This book, though, is a completely different animal. It’s describes and celebrates a beautiful love, marriage, creators of art, lovers of food and community. It’s life giving and it’s a celebration of her husband’s life, their marriage and his role as a father. Yes, it’s very sad that he is gone, but her stories about grieving are life-giving as well and beautiful and real. There is a real zest for life there that is undeniable in the heartbreak.

Check out Bari’s full reading list here, and explore her work here.

Jeremy Zuckerman – composer.

here i amHere I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer.

It’s been eleven years since Foer’s last novel and although in his latest book he explores some similar themes to his past work, Foer seems to be have gained a perspective of someone who’s been through some shit. Here I Am is the kind of book containing paragraphs that need to be read once for content and again for craft. Such an achingly beautiful book that’s about nothing much and absolutely everything. The narrative, alternating between intimacy and expansiveness, resonates in its relevance. It’s a story of human connections: with family, with ancestry, with one’s culture, with oneself. It’s about trying and often falling short. I love this book, powerful in its honesty, but be warned, it’s the stuff existential crises are made of.

Check out Jeremy’s full reading list here, and explore his work here.

We hope you enjoyed this list of the best books of 2016, please comment below to tell us what your favourite new book of 2016 was…