The question, “What are you reading?” offers a window into not only what someone is reading, but also into what someone has been thinking about.
I read 35 books in 2018 — if you were to look at my bookshelf you’d see that I’ve been immersed in learning about artificial intelligence, city planning, education, and long-term thinking.
From my list I’m excited to share with you four books that helped raise my awareness of the world around me in a very positive way. My advice: Purchase them immediately, but savor the time you spend with each one.
1. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
by Yuval Noah Harari
In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Harari has created an engaging, story-like narrative tying together the leading issues of our time including: technological disruption, artificial intelligence (AI), climate change, nationalism, immigration, job security, and education reform.
Personally, I feel burdened by the daily overproduction of knowledge. My eyes are always bigger than my stomach: I consume countless articles and podcasts, but I can never fully digest it all. Can someone please just tell me what to pay attention to?
Enter Yuval Noah Harari. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century serves as a kind of almanac for the 21st century. I love the opening line of the book, “In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power.” Clarity is exactly what Harari promises, and clarity is what he has delivered.
by Tara Westover
Educated is the true and inspiring memoir about a girl who never had a formal high school education and yet went on to receive her Ph.D. from Cambridge University.
To me, Educated is a story about the remarkable influence cast by those around us. Westover may not have had much support from her parents, but she didn’t get to Cambridge on her own. Along the way, there were countless people who came along and opened her eyes to the options around her — pulling her out of one reality, and into another.
Typically, I prefer physical books, but I must say the audiobook for Educated was quite a delight! Give it a listen.
3. Walk Through Walls: A Memoir
by Marina Abramović
I first came across the artist Marina Abramović when she performed “The Artist is Present” in New York City. That winter, everyone was talking about Marina Abramović!
In “The Artist is Present,” Abramović sat down at the Museum of Modern Art, eight hours a day, every day for three months — without moving, no food or drink, and no bathroom breaks. It was beautiful.
Walk Through Walls tells the stories behind some of Abramović’s greatest performances. A few of my favorite moments included tales of the 1974 piece “Rhythm 0” in which she put out a sign in a gallery that read, “There are 72 objects on the table that one can use on me as desired.” One was a loaded gun.
Another chapter recounts her journey creating “The Lovers: The Great Wall Walk” in which she and her lover Ulay walked for 90 days from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China to meet each other in the middle.
Abramović’s dedication to her practice is a real testament to what the mind and body are capable of when sufficiently challenged. Reflecting on her preparation for “The Artist is Present,” she writes, “I mastered the art of not sneezing.” I’m a huge fan of Abramović’s work. Reading this book opened my mind to the possibility of being more fearless, more creative, and less apologetic about my desires.
If you’re not familiar with Marina Abramović, check out her documentary Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present. And, of course, read her memoir.
4. How Buildings Learn
by Stewart Brand
How Buildings Learn is lush with “before and after” photos that illustrate the influence of time on the world around us.
On the cover, you’ll see a watercolor drawing of two identical row houses taken in 1857.
And then again you see the same two buildings in 1993 — more than one hundred years later. Notice the transformation: both buildings grew. Their skin changed, while the brick construction helped them last.
Buildings inevitably change with time, but what makes some get better, while others get worse? To answer that question, Brand has organized hundreds of photos, and written a poetic narrative linking together decades of lessons learned from I. M. Pei’s Media Lab, George Washington’s Mount Vernon home, Greenwich Village brownstones, and many more examples.
I love this book because while the subject of is “buildings,” it’s really about time. What happens to the objects we create over time? What principles endure and which are merely fashionable? In the end, it turns out that buildings can learn a lot from humans, and that humans can learn a lot from buildings.
What are you thinking about? Leave a comment down below with some of your favorite books from the past year. Also, if you’d like to hear an audio summary, and sample from each book you can hear more on the On Books Podcast.
PS. A few other notable books from the last year:
Attached, by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller | Weaving the Web, by Tim Berners Lee | Escape From Evil, by Ernest Becker | Here I am, Jonathan Safran Foer |Principles, Ray Dalio | Letters to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris |What the Eyes Don’t See, Mona Hanna-Attisha | Silent Spring,Rachel Carlson