This marks my 1,000th blog here on the site, and what better way to commemorate this milestone than to address one of my most frequently-asked questions? Thank you for reading, engaging, and commenting over the years – here’s to many more!
“What’s your favorite book?”
For an avid reader, this question can cause a stress like no other!
But today, I’m going to take a step closer and share 12 of my nonfiction favorites.
Hey, it’s a start.
Before We Begin
A few disclaimers:
Last week I wrote what constitutes a ‘favorite book’ for me, so we won’t get into that here. What I will say before we dive in, however, is that this is my list today. Ask me a different day, and a different book(s) might appear!
With one or two exceptions, all of these have been published within the last 20 or so years. Some have been on my favorites list for that long, too! (With one exception, which is noted below, all have been on my list for at least three years.)
My work as a Professional Certified Coach focuses on personal growth and professional development, so those are the types of books you’ll see here. I’ve also written stand-alone reviews on several of these, so feel free to peruse my blog for more.
OK! Favorite nonfiction – not in any ranked order – here we go!
First Things First by Stephen Covey with Roger Merrill and Rebecca Merrill
It seems only right to start my list with this book, since it was such a huge influence at the start of my career and adult life.
“Put First Things First” is one of Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and I’m so glad he dedicated an entire book to this particular habit. This book focuses primarily on priorities, values, and designing our time around what matters most. I read this at a critical time in my career and life, and have referred back to it many times in the decades since.
If you’re looking for a practical, meaningful book on prioritizing and time management, start here.
Mindset by Carol Dweck
If you’ve heard of a ‘growth mindset’ or ‘fixed mindset,’ you can credit Carol Dweck. I have probably seen Mindset cited in more books than any other single resource, and for good reason.
Dweck’s groundbreaking research on mindset can change the way we teach, lead, parent, and more. I first read this through my coaching lens, then again as part of a parenting group – both times were profound!
I recommend this book for educators, leaders, coaches, parents, and basically anyone who strives to bring out the best in others.
Deep Work by Cal Newport
I heard Newport speak at global coaching conference years ago and have read nearly all his books since then. His emphasis on maintaining focus in a world filled with distractions has had a profound impact on how I structure my days.
Newport argues that while we generally may be losing our ability to focus, with practice and dedicated attention, we can strengthen this necessary skill. I love the variety of examples he shares – some dating back decades and beyond – and the solutions they found for focus. I also appreciate his promotion of a deep and meaningful life, whatever that looks like for each of us.
On a side note, if your phone is a big source of distraction for you, you may wish to follow Deep Work with his next (also excellent) book, Digital Minimalism.
Succeed by Heidi Grant Halvorson
When it comes to delineating between different types of goals, as well as different types of achievers, Succeed is a go-to resource for me. I wrote my Master’s thesis on the theory of motivation, and I wish I’d had Grant Halvorson’s work to reference at the time!
Her explanation of performance vs mastery goals, as well as the chapter on when to quit, make this book worth its weight in gold. And her exploration into motivation – what helps us and what trips us up – raises it to platinum-level.
Highly recommended for help in goals, achievement, and motivation.
Grit by Angela Duckworth
As you’ll probably gather by this list, I am especially fond of nonfiction that shares compelling stories and examples while also being fully backed by research. Grit also fits this bill, combining two topics that have long fascinated me: passion and perseverance.
Having one or the other can be valuable, but blending the two? You’re unstoppable.
I particularly love the variety of examples Duckworth shares to demonstrate the power of grit – from West Point cadets to parents to athletes to entertainers to CEOs and truly all points in between. Just about anyone could see themselves somewhere in this book.
Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson
I was first exposed to the science of positive psychology in general, and to Fredrickson’s work in particular, during my initial coach training intensive in Santa Barbara years ago. I purchased Positivity in a local bookstore while there and devoured it on my flight home.
This very readable book shares evidence-based practices to enhance our well-being, incorporating Fredrickson’s more than 20 years of research. I still often call her ‘positivity ratio’ to mind as I mentally scan through my day.
I have since earned an additional certification in Positive Psychology Coaching, during which Fredrickson was one of our faculty members – a total fan-girl moment for me!
The One Thing by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan
This incredibly practical resource highlights what much of my coaching work is about: Discerning your vision + purpose, then designing your days to honor them as much as possible. In a very readable manner, Keller provides strategies for prioritizing, focusing, and managing time and energy effectively.
I know many people who still refer frequently to the ‘focusing question’ from The One Thing: “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
An excellent resource for clearing away the fluff and focusing on what matters!
Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham & Donald Clifton
This book introduced me to two life-changing things: 1) The encouragement to dedicate more time on enhancing strengths than on trying to shore up weaknesses, and 2) the StrengthsFinder assessment (now called CliftonStrengths). When I first read this book over 20 years ago, it reinforced what I had felt for so long but did not have the words or backing to articulate.
I dove head-first into the world of strengths and, happily, I have never emerged. I engage these principles in my own life, in my coaching work, and in the way I initially designed and continue to run my business.
It also was my introduction to Marcus Buckingham’s work, which I have utilized in a variety of ways since, including coaching with some of his team.
The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman
Confidence is more than simply walking tall and voicing your thoughts, and The Confidence Code captures its many moving parts more succinctly than most. From overthinking to societal norms to perceived repercussions of failure, Kay and Shipman explore the various barriers that get in the way of confidence – and counteract them with doable solutions.
I would never wish for confidence struggles for anyone, but there’s something comforting in reading how even high-confidence, high-profile leaders experience them from time to time – and also how they emerge out the other side.
My big takeaway: Take action. And action #1 can be reading this book!
Quiet by Susan Cain
I have always tested as an extrovert but could never fully understand why, as I require a ridiculous amount of time alone. I then had a huge aha moment while reading Quiet: I realized that while I may not love huge, loud gatherings, one-on-one or small group interactions fuel me tremendously. Give me a meaningful conversation with a close friend (or even a complete stranger) and I’m on a high for the next 24 hours!
In the years since first reading Quiet, I have referred to its concepts in my coaching work, at networking functions, as a parent, and more.
Hands down the best book on introversion/extroversion I have read to date.
Think Again by Adam Grant
This is the newest book here, and although I read it less than two years ago, I have talked about it/shared it/gifted it so much I’d be shocked if it ever fell off my favorites list! Grant shares the importance of questioning and rethinking our beliefs, and recognizing that changing our minds doesn’t mean we’re wishy-washy or wrong.
On the contrary, it can actually symbolize growth.
His discussions on confident humility, psychological safety, and the power of thinking like a scientist have truly changed the way I think!
Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb
Out of all the books I read in 2019, both fiction and nonfiction, this gem rose to the top. Immediately upon finishing, I wanted to start rereading it!
The structure of this one is unique: Gottlieb writes about her work as a therapist, as well as her interactions with her own therapist. The result is a memoir-esque and heartfelt view of many aspects of the human experience. It’s touching, compassionate, funny, heartbreaking, and pretty much any other adjective I can think of.
I love the emotion evoked by this one, as well as the dialogue it opens up about wellness, care, and mental health.
Oh my gosh, was this a fun blog to write! And stressful, as I’m sure I’ll think of others as soon as I hit ‘publish.’
Let me know if you’d like to see me briefly recapping these books on video, or if you’d like to see other lists of favorites – I’m always happy to chat about books! I’ll also be sharing my 2022 favorites soon – a couple of which will almost certainly be on a future all-time favorites list – so make sure you’re part of my email community.
Have you read any of the ones I’ve mentioned here? What books would make your list of all-time favorites? Share some titles in the comments below!
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