A collection of my favorite nonfiction books I read this past year, including a brief summary plus some links to the book itself and other articles or podcasts I’ve done about each.
Wanting by Luke Burgis
What you desire is one of the biggest factors that determines what you end up doing, and as a consequence, why your life unfolds the way it does. And yet, most of us don’t actually know a whole lot about why we desire the things we do. If you frequently find yourself pursuing things only to realize they weren’t as meaningful or satisfying as you hoped, this book will go a long way toward explaining why.
Get the Book: Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life
Learn More: My quote review of Wanting
The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
An introduction to Taoist philosophy via Winnie the Pooh. Here’s an illustrative bit: “Instead of struggling to erase what are referred to as negative emotions, we could learn to use them in positive ways… while pounding on piano keys may produce noise, removing them doesn’t exactly further the creation of music. The principles of music and living aren’t all that different.”
Get the Book: The Tao of Pooh
Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
The introduction to Oliver’s book is titled “In the Long Run, We’re All Dead.” And I suspect that how you react to that idea is a pretty good indicator of who this book is for. Specifically, if you have an intuition your difficulties with focus, procrastination, doing creative work, and generally making the most of your time here on earth have less to do with acquiring more life hacks and productivity tricks and more to do with confronting your own existential anxieties, well, then you’re going to love this book.
Get the Book: Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals
- My podcast interview with Oliver
- Oliver’s previous book: The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking
How to Write One Song by Jeff Tweedy
I have zero interest in writing music. But I loved this book. Sure, I’m a big Wilco fan, so when I saw Jeff Tweedy had written a book I was instantly curious. But really what I love to learn about is the creative process in action. We think of songwriting as something mysterious and otherworldly. But Jeff’s book is a remarkably fun window into a process that’s a lot more ordinary than you would think. It’s also full of more generalizable insights about the psychology of creativity like this: “I write down or put into my phone everything that ever crosses my mind that I think has potential, that twists my ear a little bit… The act of doing that seems as creative to me as the act of playing something on the guitar.”
Trust Yourself by Melody Wilding
Melody’s book has quickly become my go-to recommendation for anyone struggling with imposter syndrome. A long-time coach to “sensitive strivers,” Melody’s got a knack for being both validating but also practical in her approach to helping high-achievers find more inner calm and confidence. If you struggle with imposter syndrome, self-doubt, or low self-confidence (especially in the context of work), just get the book.
How to Hug a Porcupine
A tiny book full of tiny suggestions for fostering better relationships with difficult people in our lives. It’s one of those books that’s best read a page per day. For example, here’s one little nugget: “We should keep in mind that a porcupine’s quills—the result of past injuries—are a part of who the porcupine is, and they aren’t necessarily meant to hurt us. This perspective helps us relate to the porcupine and provides us with the understanding we need to successfully approach her.”
- An Expert Guide to Assertive Communication (podcast)
- 5 Rules for Setting Healthy Boundaries
- The Assertiveness Workbook
Perfectly Hidden Depression by Margaret Rutherford
The tagline of the book is “When your life looks perfect, but you’re silently falling apart” which gives a pretty strong indicator of who the book is for. More specifically, it’s about how perfectionism becomes an unconscious mask for depression and what you can do if you find yourself in this situation. The book nicely balances theory and explanation with relatable case studies and a variety of practical tools and exercises.
Be Who You Want by Christian Jarrett
We tend to think about personality as something relatively fixed and unchanging—I’m an introvert, I’ve always been one, I always will be. And while personality does tend to be fairly consistent over time, much of it can actually be molded and shaped to a much larger degree than you would expect. If there are aspects of your personality you wish were different, turns out there’s a lot of evidence to say that you can in fact change who you are.
Learn More: My podcast interview with Christian
Write Useful Books by Rob Fitzpatrick
I love short, practical books. So it’s not surprising that I ended up loving this short, practical book about how to write (and publish) short, practical books! While certainly not for everyone, it’s the first book I would recommend to anyone even vaguely considering writing and self-publishing their own book. Because in addition to all the helpful advice and tactics, it’s also empowering: You will finish reading and want nothing more than to start writing (I did anyway 🙂
What was your favorite nonfiction book of 2021?
Let’s see how many awesome recommendations we can get in the comments ????