The Best Books I Read in 2018

18 Books That Changed the Way I See the World

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2018 was an incredible reading year. 25/60 books that I read I rated either a 9/10 or 10/10, a big upgrade in both quantity and quality.

As I detailed in my annual review, I believe this upgrade was due to my installation of a Reading Queue, where I selected my menu of books available to read at the beginning of the year. I would like to share the best of the best I read with you.

The most compressed form of information transfer possible is a book title. With a brief summary, I hope to share just enough to inspire you to go to the source.

For more reading recommendations:

The Best of What I Read in 2017 (Top 15 Books, Top 10 Articles)

My Full Reading List with Ratings

Fiction / Biography

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One Hundred Years of Solitude — Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Groundbreaking and a strong contender for one of the best novels ever to come out of Latin America. Great place to start in the genre of “magical realism” where the lines between the real and surreal are blurred and to learn about Colombian history from a ground-level perspective. Very interesting metaphysical themes of the circularity of time, determinism vs. free will, and the unseen costs of civilization’s march forward.

Open — Andre Agassi

I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to distill lessons from the best in their fields and paid close attention when Open came highly recommended by a non-athlete. The title is accurate; I have not seen another auto-biography with this level of depth and vulnerability. It is easy to forget that all competition is actually about winning against ourselves. In the pursuit of mastery, personal identity is the first necessary casualty.

Cryptonomicon — Neal Stephenson

Stephenson is the master of infusing enjoyment into technical learning. I tackled Cryptonomicon to gain a background in the cryptography and math behind modern cryptocurrency and couldn’t put it down. He will transform the way you think about monetary economics, language, geopolitics, data privacy, and many other topics, and you’ll enjoy a hell of a ride along the way.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia: A Novel — Mohsin Hamid

This is an incredibly moving meditation on mortality and the constitutes of a life well-lived, folded within the unexpected confines of a self-help structure. When struggling to escape the confines of an extremely stratified and corrupt Pakistani society, what moral and psychological sacrifices are justified in the name of success?

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August — Claire North

Easily one of the most clever concepts for a novel I have encountered. Ourobourans, like the protagonist, are reborn over and over again as the same person in the same life with a perfect memory of their past lives. They have the power to reshape history within a single timeline but are also forever trapped within its cycles. What gives meaning to an existence where nothing is permanent and everything is repetitive?

Flowers for Algernon — Daniel Keyes

An experimental surgery increases Charlie’s IQ from 68 and 185 but without a corresponding increase in emotional intelligence. Told entirely through journal entries, we experience Charlie’s mental explosion with him in real-time. An absolutely heartbreaking window into disability, episodic memory, and human nature, this story inspired me to pay closer attention to my dreams and to finally seek out a therapist to work through my own mental skeletons.

Nonfiction

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Finite and Infinite Games — James P. Carse

All limitations are self-limitations. We are so immersed within finite games that we have forgotten that all the rules are self-imposed and that we are like actors performing a role. We can transcend competition by becoming an infinite player who explores the horizon rather than performs within its invisible boundaries. Simply put, the biggest winners do not compete.

The Denial of Death — Earnest Becker

Becker illustrates that humans are primarily driven by the desire to repress the fear of their own inevitable mortality. Every societal meme (religions, Singularity, nationalism) conveniently allows for a decay loophole and every major project we take on (procreation, charity, heroic sacrifice, writing a book, starting a business) is subconsciously a desperate attempt to achieve a life beyond death. You will be shaken to the core.

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement — Eliyahu M. Goldratt

I built my entire coaching practice around this book. Once you understand the implications of bottlenecks, you will never look at the world the same way again. In a nutshell, most of our improvement attempts are wasted because they do not accelerate the process which brings us closer to our goal. By understanding how to improve one system, we become able to improve any other system.

The Power of Myth — Joseph Campbell

Humans have always been storytellers, making sense of the world through narratives with the same basic structures. In this set of interviews, Campbell shows the universality of the human experience across time and culture and our attempts to create and pass on metaphorical meaning out of the continual process of death and rebirth.

The True Believer — Eric Hoffer

All mass movements (i.e. Bitcoin, social justice, MAGA) follow the exact same formula. The frustrated and discontented subsume their individuality, seeking self-worth as part of a larger collective, which seeks to tear down the existing order. When you can identify a mass movement’s current phase in the cycle, you can predict its future actions with great accuracy.

In Search of the Miraculous — P.D. Ouspensky

Definitely the most esoteric and strange book of the year. Ouspensky, a mathematician and journalist, travels with G. I. Gurdjieff, a mystic teacher who today we would probably categorize as a cult leader. Ouspensky finds himself increasingly unable to reconcile his rationalist materialism with the miraculous events which seemingly defy explanation. Filled with truly mindblowing insights on how to transcend standard modes of consciousness that hold up to modern neuroscience incredibly well, considering this took place one hundred years ago.

Business / Personal Development

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The Mind Illuminated — John Yates

By far the best book on the science and practice of meditation, Yates lays out each step along the path of enlightenment in an actionable and easy to follow way. I treat The Mind as a reference guide, rereading one chapter before my daily practice, which has really accelerated my progress.

Why We Sleep — Matthew Walker

Sleep has been a massive issue for me, and until I read Why We Sleep, I had not internalized just how essential sleep is both for short-term performance and long-term health. I learned quite a bit about the functionality of the different sleep phases, the purpose of dreaming, and the studied best practices for maximizing sleep quality — but most of all this book really scared me straight.

The Innovators — Walter Isaacson

This is the story of how the major inventions which led to computers and the internet came into being, from The Difference Engine to Google. The Innovators is an excellent study of the commonalities behind creativity, vision, prolificness as individuals, and the principles for successful collaboration among diverse teams. Also, I now have a much better appreciation for the underpinnings of the technology which we take for granted today.

The E-Myth Revisited — Michael E. Gerber

E-Myth is my most recommended read for anyone looking to move from solopreneurship to achieving scale through delegation. I had a red pill moment when I realized that I had not created a consulting business but a job with flexible hours. I am now constantly working for ways to work “on” my business rather than “in” my business, and I use this framework to help my clients do the same.

The Most Important Thing — Howard Marks

Best investment book I have read. A compilation of highlights from Marks’s investment memos, TMIT deconstructs the essential principles which drive success as an investor. Typical investment content seems to make simple concepts seem revolutionary, but through clarity of thought, Marks manages to make revolutionary concepts seem incredibly simple.

Principles — Ray Dalio

Principles is the operating system upon which you can build a successful business and a life of purpose from the top down. An incredible compression of insight. Even if you don’t subscribe fully to everything (I for one believe radical transparency works better in theory than practice), you will want pauses after nearly every page to absorb the implications and capture the action items.


If you enjoyed this post, you might also be interested in my Top Books and Articles from 2017, as well as My Full 2018 Reading List with Ratings.

I’m finalizing my Reading Queue for 2019 and am always on the lookout for personalized recommendations. If there is a book you think I need to read this year, let me know in the comments!



Chris Sparks