The (Very) Best Books I Read in 2018
Every year, I try to narrow down all the books I have recommended and read for this email list down to just a handful of the best. The kind of books where if they were the only books I’d read that year, I’d still feel like it was an awesome year of reading.
I know that people are busy, and we don’t always have time to read as much as we like. Nothing wrong with that (though if you want to read more—don’t look for shortcuts—make more time!). What matters is that when you do read, you pick the right books.
This list is now 125,000+ people, which means I hear pretty quickly when a recommendation has landed well. I promise you—you can’t go wrong with any of these. But…before I get into my favorites this year, I wanted to tell you about something I’m really excited about for 2019. We are kicking the year off with a 14 Day—New Year, New You—Challenge for Daily Stoic. The one we did in October was awesome, and I had an amazing time doing it alongside thousands of you. This one is going to be even better and actually has some reading related challenges that I think you’ll love. Give it a look.
A Calendar of Wisdom: Daily Thoughts To Nourish the Soul by Leo Tolstoy
I read one page of this book every single day in 2018. It’s basically a collection of Tolstoy’s favorite passages from the ancient and classic texts, with excellent supplements from his own considerable wisdom. Each day draws on Chinese, Jewish, Stoic, Christian, Indian and Arabic sources (he quotes everyone from Emerson to Marcus Aurelius to Lao-Tzu) and manages to give good, actionable advice from all of these differing schools. It’s no wonder the Communists banned and suppressed this book, because it challenges everything they were trying to deny about human nature and the human experience. But luckily it did survive and has finally been translated into English. This book should be much, much, more popular and I promise your mornings will be improved if you start them with it.
The Captain Class: A New Theory of Leadership by Sam Walker
This was definitely the best business/leadership book I read this year. It was recommended to me by the lacrosse player Paul Rabil when I did his podcast. What a book! It proves that we have really missed what makes great teams and organizations work. It’s not star players, it’s not even how much they can spend–it’s whether they have great captains. Athletes like Bill Cartwright on the Chicago Bulls, Carla Overbeck on the US Women’s Soccer team, Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees and Jack Lambert of the Pittsburgh Steelers were not by any means the most famous or the most talented players, but they were the glue that held the team together. Walker’s chapter on “carrying the water” had some great insights re: Ego is the Enemy and I think this incredibly well-written book should be studied by anyone trying to build a great organization (or trying to find a role for themselves inside one). Related, and lesser known recommendation: Everyone should read Sadaharu Oh’s autobiography, A Zen Way of Baseball. He’s the greatest home run hitter of all time, a Zen master, and basically nobody outside of Japan knows who he is. Brilliant and beautiful book.
Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird and Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell
I read so many biographies this year and these two biographies of two extraordinary British women were two of my absolute favorites. I knew nothing about Queen Victoria but Julia Baird does an amazing job of making her accessible and interesting–and captures just what life was like for a woman in the 19th century, even if she was a queen! I knew a lot more about Churchill but Sonia Purnell’s examination of Winston’s better half was truly revelatory. (Churchill said the best decision he ever made in his life was marrying Clementine and this book make it clear just how many times she saved his ass). Both of these books are entertaining, insightful and teach a ton about the times the subjects lived in. Any other biographies I liked this year? Thank you for asking! I was riveted (and appalled) by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian’s biography of Tiger Woods and probably talked to more people about about this book than anything else I read this year. I got around to reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Da Vinci just in time to go see The Last Supper in Milan. Truly excellent book about one of history’s all time greats. Evan Thomas Being Nixon: A Man Divided is one of the best books I’ve ever read about a politician. It’s worth reading whatever country you live in and whatever your political beliefs are. A final book I’d add this collection would be Rosanne Cash’s memoir, Composed. I heard about it from Steven Pressfield and it’s excellent.
Honorary Mentions: Robert Greene’s The Laws of Human Nature came out this year and it was well-worth the half-decade wait since Mastery. He is a living treasure and everyone should read this new one. I think the best book I’ve ever written, Conspiracy, came out this year as well (The New York Times said it was genius, so that counts for something…). Camus’ The Fall was the best novel I read this year. I really enjoyed the new series of translations that Princeton University Press has done of Cicero and Epictetus and Seneca. They are worth reading for sure. Kate Fagan’s book What Made Maddy Run? was one of the books I most recommended to sports coaches and parents I know. Finally, I made a concerted effort to read more eastern philosophy this year and really got a lot out of Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy by Philip J. Ivanhoe which is a collection of most of the classic Confucian and Taoist writings. After that I read The Bhagavad Gita, which is something I wasn’t ready for before, but glad to finally understand.
Anyway, that’s a lot of books I just mentioned and they should keep you plenty busy. However, if you want more, you can check out the best of lists I did in 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011.
And of course, you can get a lot of these books on Scribd, which is basically unlimited ebooks and audiobooks (and a New York Times subscription) all in one app for one low monthly price. Worth trying for sure.