Why most memorable?
Because “best” and “top” in my opinion aren’t really helpful when it comes to book recommendations. Some books make an impact. Some don’t. These did.
As you’ll see, some of these books were not published this year. A few were holdovers from last year that I never got to and a few more were books that I’ve always wanted to read that I finally made time for.
I started several more books than you’ll see here but I didn’t finish them (if a book hasn’t hooked me in 50-100 pages, I’m out). I also finished other books but for one reason or another they were forgettable. These books, as the title reads, are memorable. If you’re interested, CLICK HERE for my 2017 list and CLICK HERE for my 2016 list.
Without further adieu, here are the 15 Most Memorable Books I Read in 2018:
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Juval Noah Harari
This is one of the most refreshing, methodical, well-written books I’ve ever read. Harari examines every aspect of how modern humans and our society came to be without any agenda, subjectivity or pontification. He examines the human race from a fact-based, almost disconnected perspective. At times it’s like he’s writing as an alien who is crafting their thesis at Alien State University about ‘Humans on Planet Earth’, which, trust me, is a good thing. In other hands, this project could have been an opportunity for a writer to insert himself and insufferably harangue the reader about all of humanities foibles. Instead, this is an honest look at the good (and there’s a lot of it), the bad (plenty of that, too), and the ugly of Sapiens’ rise to the top of the food chain here on the third rock from the sun.
A Candice Millard book has appeared on my ‘most memorable books’ list every year since I started writing them in 2016. She is, simply put, a brilliant writer, historian and storyteller. Combine that with a knack for finding compelling stories that haven’t been covered sufficiently and you’ve got the recipe for solid gold work. In this case, Millard writes about Winston Churchill’s nonstop youthful quest for military glory, and then, in a turn of events, his improbable solo escape from a prison camp in the Boer War. Part action movie/thriller and part biography, even people who have read other books on Churchill (me) will discover new facts about him and his daring escapades.
Mezrich is most famous for his book Accidental Billionaires that became the movie, The Social Network. Woolly is also about pushing the boundaries of technology, only this time instead of building an online platform with millions of users, Mezrich follows a team of scientists trying to rebuild a Woolly mammoth that has been extinct for thousands of years. The fact that researchers are even in the vicinity of making this happen is a little scary…and when you read about the mind-boggling science, ethical obstacles and brain-stretching tech solutions being deployed to bring the Woolly back, it’ll make you confident that you may see a mammoth walking around in your life time.
Unwifeable: A Memoir – Mandy Stadtmiller
If you had to pick the most unlikely book on this list based on my past reading history, it would be this one. Prior to seeing several comedians and authors that I like posting about it, I had never heard of the book or Mandy. If you haven’t either, she was a popular columnist for the New York Post and now writes for New York Magazine. After reading this memoir, you will know everything about her (or at least everything she has written about or talked to her multiple therapists about for decades)… Her storytelling is fast-paced, funny, whimsical, at times depressing (for her) and always brutally transparent. It’s also one of the better peaks behind the curtain of what it takes to build a writing career and establish yourself as a columnist / feature writer at a publication. Very glad I came across it and looking forward to her next project.
The Outsider – Stephen King
At this point what can I say about the master thriller writer that hasn’t already been said, other than to point out that this book has one of his more multi-level, unique plots of any in recent memory. The story begins with a horrifying crime, an even more gripping arrest, a goosebump-inducing lead-up to trial…and then the roller coaster drops and you fly through the last 200 pages afraid to turn the light off as you read late into the night. Absolutely fantastic. I make a point of reading one King book every year and it has never failed me. Also, his books saved me from being a literary loser a long time ago, which I wrote about in its own extended post HERE.
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing – Daniel H. Pink
I loved this book for so many reasons, many of them because Pink takes a scientific approach to figuring out the optimal times to do things for biological and physiological and common sense reasons…and then juxtaposes them against how dumb we actually live. At times, the book is frustrating because it clearly states how we’re locked into bad ideas at school (kids are far less productive and likely to learn when stuck in class an hour after they wake up)…at work (there is nothing more counterproductive than early morning or late afternoon meetings)…and at home (our sleep patterns are largely awful)… You will easily find 10 things in here you’d like to change in society, timing-wise, so at least change what you can in your life.
I’ve been a fan of Ryan Holiday for a long time. His books Ego is the Enemy and The Obstacle is the Way have appeared on my ‘most memorable’ lists before… But this book is very different. It actually reads like a novel and an investigative report that involves an 80s legend (Hulk Hogan) a 2000s media phenomenon (Gawker) and a bona fide Silicon Valley icon (Peter Thiel). The story is a fascinating look at how quickly news moves, how fast a reputation can be ruined, and how scary it all is when there is often little recourse once the damage is done – whether you’re an anonymous person or the man in charge of Hulkamania. The book weaves a lot of insight about our modern media world into it as well. If any of the above topics interest you, this book will too.
This book was first published in 1967 and I think has been mentioned in 85% of other business books written since – and promoted or talked about on 90% of recent business podcasts. I finally got around to reading it this year and I liked it for a bunch of reasons. It’s short. It’s not overly written. It’s very easy to read. And most important, it makes you consider (well, reconsider) what you are spending your hours on, why you’re doing that, and then spells out ways you can make changes so that as the title says, you’re getting the right things done. We all think we’ve got a good grasp of what we’re supposed to do to maximize our time and our efforts while working, but if this book shows us anything, it’s that most people, titans of industry included, don’t have a clue about how they really divide up their hours.
Jim Brown: Last Man Standing – Dave Zirin
I’ve been curious about Jim Brown for a long time and this book by David Zirin is, not to be dramatic, the book I’ve been waiting for. It is brilliantly written, with a few stylistic and storytelling choices that could have gone wrong but turn out great. Heading into the book, I knew Brown was a dominant football player in the NFL, I knew he quit early, and I knew he was in Any Given Sunday. Those facts may be the least interesting things about the man. From business flame outs with Richard Pryor, to his unsettling (to say the least) treatment of women, to his fearless work mentoring gang members in the toughest parts of LA, the book moves through Brown’s life, one dramatic act to the next, with no excuses for his actions or applause for his accolades. It’s a real and honest and exceptional biography.
I’m not sure this qualifies as a true “book”, since it’s really a very long, hilariously illustrated PDF from Serrano about one of the best and enduring comedies of modern times, The Office, but since this is my list, I’m putting it in because it was a really entertaining read. If you’re not familiar with Serrano’s actual “books”, he’s written a few New York Times bestsellers on Basketball and Rap, so this series of essays on another pop culture phenomenon involving Jim and Pam and Michael Scott and the rest of the Dunder Mifflin crew is right in his wheelhouse. His chapter meticulously breaking down the famous basketball game is worth the price alone.
A book about octopuses? Yeah, I know. But if you’re going to read a book about octopuses, it better be this one. My octo-knowledge heading into this read was next to zero and now I feel like I’ve been introduced to an alien life form with a ridiculously high IQ living right here on our planet. They think, feel, show affection, problem solve, hold grudges and then, of course, can change colors, lift unthinkable amounts of weight, taste with their arms, squeeze their whole body through holes the size of an orange and also, you know, squirt ink. Montgomery is a fantastic writer and this story is as much about her exploration into the dreamy and exotic octopus world as it is about the fascinating animals themselves. Really enjoyed this one.
The Escape Artist – Brad Meltzer
I kind of back-doored my way into this book. Of course, I’d seen Meltzer’s past books on shelves at bookstores forever since they’re all bestsellers, but while going over our interview with him from the Life of Dad podcast, I began following him on Twitter and the more he posted about his projects and work the more I thought I might like his books. At this exact time, our local library was having a book sale and this book was just sitting there, staring at me. It’s about the White House and deep cover spies and Harry Houdini and it’s all based on “real” things and before I knew it, I was 20 pages deep and I bought it. To be blunt, Meltzer is an outstanding storyteller. His attention to detail in scenes and characters is sooooo good. On one page I counted about seven pop culture/ history references in a character’s inner monologue. These add up and very quickly it feels like you know everyone in the book intimately. Awesome, fun read.
Pearlman is one of the best sports biographers/writers we have right now. While the USFL is a little before my time, the breadcrumb trail he left via his social media while writing it peaked my interest and, frankly, the cast of characters couldn’t be more compelling. From Donald Trump to Herschel Walker, to Jim Kelly and even Doug Flutie, the book is fast-paced, has a quick-wit, and at times it almost feels like a lost reality show. With the return of the XFL and former NFL stars trying to take on the league with their own football upstarts, this book is very timely. Also, I think Pearlman conducted about 4,000 interviews to get this right. Not many writers in the sports space willing to put all their chips in on a topic that isn’t a slam dunk for publishers…but he did it and it paid off. Also, this book started for him as a school project – so major points for seeing it through over the course of decades.
The funny thing is I bought this book right around the time I stopped getting Seth’s daily e-mail. It was nothing against him – he’s clearly a marketing genius and innovator, but I kept thinking of parodies of his e-mails in my head and I couldn’t stop. Then I picked up this book, read it, and remembered why I signed up for his stuff in the first place. Even if you have no interest in marketing, his insights on the importance of storytelling, owning a very small market (as opposed to having a minimum viable product) and his thoughts on mantras for ideas are exceptional. In an era when everyone is promoting their own personal “brand”, this book is invaluable.
I lumped these two together because I did something I rarely ever do, which is read books from the same author back to back. As far as I’m concerned, Kurson is one of the most exciting, thrilling non-fiction writers out there. His book, Shadow Divers, is probably the most successful book I’ve recommended in terms of people telling me they loved it. I hadn’t read one of his titles in a while and when I saw Rocket Man come out I bought it without even reading a review. The subtitle says it all. While Apollo 13 has received all the film hype and Apollo 11 the historical accolades, Apollo 8 may have been the most daring, insane project NASA ever attempted, considering the stakes and failures leading up to its launch.
When I finished this book I noticed that somehow a few years back I missed Kurson’s sort-of follow-up to Shadow Divers, Pirate Hunters, and when I started reading the opening chapters, I knew I was doing a back-to-back Kurson reading. If you liked Shadow Divers, I’d recommend reading Pirate Hunters next. If you haven’t, then try Rocket Men. Can’t go wrong either way.
The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created – Jane Leavy
When it comes to Jane Leavy writing biographies, I have to admit it, I’m essentially a fanboy. Acclaimed writer Jonathan Eig said it best: “Jane Leavy could write the biography of a tube of toothpaste and I’d be first in line to buy it.” I do not disagree with this statement. If you’re keeping track, this is actually the 17th book on this list of the 15th most memorable books and I’m putting it on here because I’m just past halfway through and whether it ends up on this year’s list or next year’s list, it doesn’t matter. I’d put it on almost any list in any year I read it. Leavy is, I think, a writing genius. If Babe Ruth interests you at all, even if you’ve read other Ruth bios, I’d suggest you grab this book. So many stories of the real Ruth, with women, with drinking, with food, with baseball, with Cuban con men who hustled him out of $100,000+ in a single trip. A near perfect read.
Thank you for reading and scroll down for some personal news… Again, you can check out my 2016 list HERE and my 2017 list HERE. And if you want to get my recommendations on books, workouts, snacks, gear, articles and more every week, you can SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER HERE (you’ll get a free e-book as well). And also….
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