The Best Books on My “Shelf”


I put this list together to share with my new colleagues at Undercurrent—a remarkable consulting firm where I started work this week.

As part of the on-boarding process I was given a wonderful list books that all employees are expected to have read. I was delighted that all of them were new to me even if the topics were familiar.

When looking at their list I realized how a mix of favorite titles can illuminate the character of a person. It also created a sense of nostalgia. In the age of electronic media, I miss browsing people’s bookshelves. I also miss people browsing mine; most of my books are electronic or in boxes in the basement.

Books of course don’t just illuminate their owner they are also tools and snapshots of an author’s understanding at a specific time. As a recent author myself I know how a book can often go stale as soon as you finish writing it. And there are some which are more timeless.

Below is a collection of books that have influenced my life. Some new, some old, some mainstream and some obscure. I hope you find something in here you are looking for.



The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt

Not only an excellent primer on the tenants of the positive psychology movement, but one of the best pieces I’ve ever read on religion and culture.

The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg

This book helped me be more conscious of the behavioral routines that make up my life. And also learn how to change them for myself and others.

Intimacy and Desire, David Schnarch

This book helped me synthesize years of reading and experiences in relating to other humans. The book deals primarily with romance, but also helps put a context around other kinds of relationships.

What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly

One of the scariest, and most optimistic, things I’ve ever read. Connects concepts from biology and sociology to technological innovation and social evolution. A nice counter point—or addition to—Ray Kurzweil.

Give and Take, Adam Grant

Another positive psych book that opened my eyes to how our reciprocity styles effect our lives.


Systemantics, John Gall

A wonderful little book on the nature of system failure. Very funny and very informative.

The Rise of Superman, Steven Kotler

Extends on Csikszentmihalyi’s work in Flow. Much of the focus is on extreme sports but the lessons are applicable to everyday humans.

Quiet, Susan Cain

This book helped me develop compassion and strategies for dealing with my introverted side (I’m an ambivert myself), and a deeper appreciation for the introverts I relate to at work and in my personal life. It’s essential if you work with people who build technology.

Confidence, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic:

It’s actually more about building competence than confidence and exposes the dubious connection between the two.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan.

Why I eat grass-fed steak.

Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel

I met Dr. Perel at a TED talk she gave on Valentine’s day last year and fell in love with her work. She’s challenging to many, and there’s genius here.

The Culture Code, Clotaire Rapaille

A classic on the role culture plays in communication and persuasion.

The Lost City of Z, David Grann

An engaging read about Percy Fawcett, an explorer who dissappeard in the Amazon in 1925. He’s poorly remembered today but was quite famous in his time. And may have made one of the more important archaeological discoveries of recent history. A discovery that he, himself, remained unaware of. The last chapter is mind blowing.

The Phoenix Project, Gene Kim.

A novel about applying lean manufacturing principles in an IT environment, the rise of DevOps, and continuous delivery. Geeky, but very important if you work in any business that involves technology. In the tradition of Goldratt’s The Goal and Velocity which you should also read.

Thinking in Systems: A Primer, Donella Meadows

A classic out of MIT.

The War of Art, Steven Pressfield

For getting yourself into creator mode.

The Social Conquest of Earth, E. O. Wilson

A great overview of the famed biologist’s theories on eusociality. It includes some very interesting stuff on the evolutionary purpose of social systems — including religion.

The Compass of Pleasure, David J. Linden

Amazon’s review said it well “From the New York Times bestselling author comes a “hugely entertaining” look at vice and virtue through cutting-edge science.”

What Do Women Want?, Daniel Bergner

An eye opening, and occasionally eye popping, look at the science of female desire.

Destructive Emotions, H. H. The Dalai Lama.

Transcripts from a conference attended by social scientists like Daniel Golman and buddhist thinkers on how to deal with anger, rage and other emotions that lead to social problems.

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