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Book Review: Five Best of 2017
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Book Review: Five Best of 2017 - Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Five Best of 2017

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Five Best of 2017

We didn’t review as many books in 2017 as in years past (something we aim to remedy in 2018!), so this year’s recap is perhaps not as credible as a best-of list. However, the five best books of the ten we evaluated are solid reads, each of them different in tone and purpose from the others. They are a nice representation of the wide range of topics often sharing space on the Business, Money, and Leadership shelf. Although “we recommend this for anyone” is a meaningless and dishonest assessment of any book, we’re confident that any of these publications has a great chance of being enjoyed by an inquisitive, thoughtful reader. Here we humbly offer our five best books in this category of 2017, in order beginning with the best of the year.

Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice From the Best in the World, by Tim Ferriss
It might be recency bias speaking, since this is the most recent book we reviewed, but nothing else we looked at has the potential of Tim Ferriss’s book to be resonant with so many people, whether they read the entire book or not. Ferriss sent the same list of 11 questions to hundreds of successful people, with the best responses presented in this book. The answers are revealing, inspiring, funny, unpredictable, and loaded with wisdom, both practical and ideal. We dare you not to put at least one quote on a sticky note for that space at the edge of your monitor.

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?, by Alan Alda
Award-winning actor Alan Alda draws on his decades of experience as a stage performer and as host of Scientific American Frontiers on PBS to break down his approach to effective communications. We’re impressed by the readability and ease with which he communicates some fairly esoteric ideas, with grace and accessibility. For one-on-one communication across multiple media, his advice on having empathy first, leading to relationship-building and understanding, is a real touchy-feely vibe that might turn more clinical communicators off, so this is probably not a one-size-fits-all deal. Still, people are complicated, and communication is complicated, and Alda’s book addresses these complications and helps the reader get inside them.

Finish: Give Yourself The Gift of Done, by Jon Acuff
Motivational, get-up-and-get-it-done books usually feel like Powerpoint notes from visiting speakers at conferences you only go to if the company’s paying you to attend, but Jon Acuff’s style somehow feels more like a Pinterest board of recipes already attempted by a trusted neighbor. You read this book and actually believe there are things here you can apply today. “The sneakiest obstacle to meeting your goals is not laziness, but perfectionism,” Acuff says. “We’re our own worst critics, and if it looks like we’re not going to do something right, we prefer not to do it at all. That’s why we’re most likely to quit on day two, ‘the day after perfect’—when our results almost always underper­form our aspirations.” Turning off the internal critic is an enormous task for anyone with high expectations of him- or herself, and Acuff helps the reader structure goal-setting for completion, not perfection. The voice inside us that insists we’re not good enough keeps getting in the way, and here’s reasonable, meaningful advice for shutting it up.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, & Finding Joy, by Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant
We’ll just say right up front that except for Michael Lewis, no byline on the Business shelf gets us more excited than Adam Grant’s. His books on non-conformity and helping others first as business strategies are fresh air alternately blowing gently and whooshing madly through a room of staid, stale advice for success. Anyone who says books on business leadership tend to say the same thing can certainly be excused, but he or she has certainly not read Adam Grant. In this book, Grant teams up with his friend, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. At the height of her media visibility following the publication of her bestseller Lean In, Sandberg lost her husband. Option B is Sandberg’s heart-wrenching (it really is) recounting of her struggle to keep it together and keep going. Grant provides accessible insight on scholarly research in dealing with personal trauma and making the best of Option B, which we are all living in some way.

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, by Michael Lewis
This Michael Lewis title was actually released in December 2016, which is partially why it’s not closer to the top of the list. Books published late in a calendar year tend to get overlooked in year-end lists, so we reached back two weeks to include this one. In our original review, we said Lewis “doesn’t seem so much to be explaining decision-making science by telling the stories of the leaders in the field as to be exploring their story by way of explaining the science. The difference is subtle in execution though it appears huge by the story’s end.” Looking at it now, it feels even more anomalous in the Lewis catalogue: still very interesting, but less about the concept and more about the story. But darn it if the concept doesn’t keep coming back a full year after reading the book. Once you read the story, you can’t stop seeing flaws in human decision-making everywhere you look. If you missed it, pick this book up soon.

Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, by Derek Thompson
In order to keep it an honest list for those disqualifying the Lewis book, Derek Thompson’s 2017 book can slide into the number 5 position in its place. It has a few flaws, but the writing is excellent, and the topic seems more relevant each day, as we take closer looks at our behavior with addictive social media and content programming. Knowing what we’ve learned in recent weeks about Facebook’s role in many of our friends’ and relatives’ opinions, can we look at these platforms’ specific addicting attributes and, if nothing else, keep ourselves vigilant against less desirable outcomes while still enjoying the benefits? It’s a question worth asking again and again, and this book helps us ask it intelligently. Whether we’d like to give up Netflix and Candy Crush or not, it seems prudent to understand that we can make decisions about them without being puppets to strategists. This is perhaps the most important book we read this year.


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Book Review: Five Best of 2017 - Executive Leadership Articles

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