My Best Books of the Year List

Dopamine serotonin


Books are a non-addictive way to stimulate curiosity. The difference between reading a book and engaging in social media is stark. That's because the two activities engage different areas of the brain. Many studies have demonstrated that social media stimulates dopamine, which seeks short term pleasure and is addictive.

By contrast, an activity that creates long term satisfaction involves serotonin. While the first touches 5 brain receptors, the second touches 14. We don't get addicted to being grateful for what we have. And that's a shame, because gratitude is like Vitamin D for the soul.

I'm grateful to all the authors I read. Because each of these books is the product of years of observation, study, and experience. Publishing is an act of love. But it's also an act of courage when you're writing about a new idea and you don't have a huge platform.

Authors often endure through rejection and multiple drafts and revisions to bring us their ideas. It's a familiar process. Umberto Eco said “the classics survived for Darwinian reasons, luckier than the dinosaurs.”

Well, you may need luck to get on my radar, but you need value to get on my reading list.


Best Books Read in 2021

This year, more than any other recent year, I followed the questions.

“The future is the intersection of choice and interruptions,” say Christopher Locke and David Weinberger in The Cluetrain Manifesto. “The questions we ask aren't going to predict the future. They will create the future.” Rip Chistopher Locke.

Things are what we make of them.


1. Questions on community and collaboration.

Community: the Structure of Belonging by Peter Block is filled with useful questions. Block connects leadership, community, and activism. Along with inverting the questions, I love and find useful the section on reframing our relationship to problem solving. If we look for greater outcomes as the goal then we look for assets and skills to match those outcomes. On convenience, speed, and electronic connections:

“Our world is organized around certain principles that are marketed as if they produce community, but their effects are the opposite.” 


2. Questioning history and the current narrative.

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber (anthropologist and activist) and David Wengrow(archeologist) is a provocation in its premise: that we should let go of the old narrative crafted via a low-resolution lens. Their story is that humanity basically made it up and it went along through trial and error. How did we get stuck?

“If something did go terribly wrong in human history, then perhaps it began to go wrong precisely when people started losing that freedom to imagine and enact other forms of social existence.” 


3. Questioning ethics and morals.

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson is an intrigue-filled story of the 2020 Nobel Prize winner for chemistry (science of biochemistry and gene editing) and her team. Ethical issues involve not only the big question as to whether we should allow genetic editing in humans, but also the subsidiary question, of when we are ready for it.

“A few decades from now, if it becomes possible and safe, should we allow parents to enhance the IQ and muscles of their kids? Should we let them decide eye color? Skin color? Height?”


4. Questions on aging and the creative process.

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl where the origin story of Foo Fighters and difficult dynamics in Nirvana will remain a mystery. I noted how many of the most incredible artists and creators have thanked their mothers for their craft and inspiration. Grohl is no exception: his mother is his best friend. On aging:

“Sometimes I forget that I’ve aged. My head and my heart seem to play this cruel trick on me, deceiving me with the false illusion of youth by greeting the world every day through the idealistic, mischievous eyes of a rebellious child finding happiness and appreciation in the most basic, simple things.“


5. Questions about the future of family business.

Looking into the Future of Business Families by John A. Davis and Thierry Lombard to also learn more about visionary Renato Tangiuri. I first became interested in this question in  my corporate years. In the U.S., many companies talk about being a “family.” But, coming from Italy, I had a very different idea of family.

I came across the work via Alessandro Scaglione in his book Continuare Insieme. So I followed the thread. I love Tangiuri's teachings:

(1) First, be accurate. Use clear and precise terminology so that you and others understand what it is you mean to say and so that your words (which are tools) carefully build the images that you want to communicate.

(2) Second, keep it simple. Focus on the essentials of your study and don’t make it complicated. All social phenomena are influenced by numerous factors, which are in turn influenced by many more. A person can become overwhelmed assembling an explanation of a person, a social interaction, or an organization—unless you limit or bound what you are trying to explain and keep your explanation simple.

(3) Third, and probably most essential, be useful.

Like Tangiuri, I'm fascinated by the real questions and lessons in life. The gift is in articulating the question for exploration in a way that clarifies it and opens up opportunity.

The detective part of my work s why I read so much mystery fiction. Right now, I'm loving learning about 1811 England, with its class distinctions, politics, and life complications in C.S. Harris' What Angels Fear.

This is a small sliver of everything I've read in 2021. You can find other themes I shared throughout the year in the recommended books section.


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