ALearningaDay Book Awards: The 5 Books of the Year 2012

Note 1: These books were not necessarily published in 2012. These were chosen from the books I read this year.

Note 2: I only count “geeky” books/books that make me better here i.e. books related to history, psychology, self-help, business et al.

I thought I’d continue the tradition of publishing a top 5 list of the best books I’ve read this year. This year has not been too different from last year in terms of books. The count is at 23 (vs 24 last year). For all practical purposes, it’s been a busy year with a lot of truly fantastic books read. There were 2 big themes this year – happiness and human behaviour. And, thanks to Audible and my R15 system, I’ve been able to keep up 30 minutes of book reading or more pretty much every working day.

Over to the awards, then.

Winner – Book of the Year: So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

Why? This was simply the best book of the year. As a mark of it’s brilliance, I have already gifted around 10 copies to various friends and family. The book beautifully tied together a whole bunch of concepts that I have come to understand over the year – the importance of deliberate practice, the importance of excellence in finding purpose and the importance of taking lots of “little bets.”

For all those who would like to make more of their life and careers, this is a book that comes highly recommended. I have attempted to summarize the key principles of the book in a recently concluded book learning series (here).

Impact? In my case, aside from solidifying my understanding of many of the basic principles of excellence, it has taught me to focus hard and “be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Additionally, I have now been inspired to ensure I apply the principles of deliberate practice in every aspect of my life.

Great job putting this together, Cal. Thanks a lot!

1st Runner Up – Book of the Year: Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin

Why? Because it’s awesome.

This is not a new book by any stretch of the imagination. Somehow, it slipped under my radar for a while. And boy, it did absolutely blow me away when I did get to it.

Talent is overrated examines performance in great detail. It beautifully deconstructs the myth of talent and, instead, focuses our attention on a concept called deliberate practice that has gone on to shape our understanding on performance.

Impact? It took me months to truly understand the kind of impact deliberate practice could have on one’s life.

I began applying it fervently to my guitar practice (as it’s a concept easily applicable to sport and musical instrument learning) and I’ve seen the difference. Now, I’m working to make this a habit and apply it to everything I do. More to follow on this initiative..

2nd Runner Up – Book of the Year: Start with Why by Simon Sinek


Why? It teaches you to ask “why?”. The book is an expansion of Sinek’s famous TED talk and is meaningful, engaging and fun – all at once.

Impact? The book has begun to change the way I communicate. I find it’s effect nearly every time I begin to launch into an introduction or explain something – I ask myself to “start with why.”

It has also solidified some of my own beliefs and biases on leadership. Very inspiring book.

Fourth Place – Book of the Year: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Why? Like all books written by journalists, the Power of Habit has a compelling narrative. But, books don’t make it to this list for their compelling narratives – this book is incredibly powerful in that it underlines how important a role habits play in our lives.

It goes deep into the science behind habits and helps us understand the nature of our behaviour.

Impact? The Power of Habit helped me understand the real difference between the most productive people on earth and the rest – habits. They had habits of deliberate practice, winning etc ingrained in their daily schedules.

This book has inspired me to re-examine my own life during this break and commit/re-commit to creating and strengthening some important habits. In my case, I have 2 habits I would like to build – 30 min of exercise 5 days a week and deliberate practice in everything I do. This is going to take work but I’m looking forward to building systems to make this happen in the new year.

Fifth Place – Book of the Year: The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

Why? Jonathan Haidt is the man behind the very powerful “elephant and rider’” analogy for our minds. He also has a very clear and thought through theory on happiness, which he examines in detail in this book. I loved this book.

Impact? Understanding the fact that our mind consists of 2 very distinct beings – the elephant (i.e. the strong emotional part. In scientific terms, our lymbic system or old brain) and the rider (i.e. the weak logical part. In scientific terms, the pre frontal cortex) has helped me understand how I can work with my mind to get things done.

Understanding the elephant and the rider is critical to help us understand ourselves.

And Jonathan Haidt’s studies on happiness also helped me re-commit to little habits like counting 5 blessings every day.

Special Mention – Book of the Year: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Why? Simply one of the most sincere books I’ve ever read. Brought tears to my eyes. And, if you need any convincing, just read this passage..

“Again and again, I therefore admonish my students in Europe and America: Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue.

And it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run, in the long-run, I say(!), success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”

Impact? This passage alone has inspired me to no end. It reinforces the principles from the books above – focus on being excellent and giving what you do everything, and success and happiness will follow.

I am working on making sure I have reminders of this passage all around me.

There were a few other books that deserved to make it on this list, and almost did. These were –

The Honest Truth about Dishonesty by Dan Ariely
The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Quiet by Susan Cain
The Big Short by Michael Lewis

And thus, another year has passed. There have been so many learnings and changes in my life thanks to some of these books. If you haven’t gotten to them, I hope you will find time during the holidays..

And, if you need any help with getting together a system to help you stick with reading, do let me know and I’ll be happy to help.. (And on that note, if you do have a system that enables you to exercise 5 times a week, I’d love to hear from you as well!)

Here’s to many great books in 2013!