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cf #69: 50ish recommendations for your reading list
You are reading contentfolks—a fortnightly blend of sticky notes, big content ideas, and small practical examples. Thank you for being here! ~fio
Hey there 👋
Last time, I took you behind the scenes of my job application for a VP of Content Marketing role. During the hiring process, I was asked to name the books that made the biggest impact on my thinking and decision-making; and because I liked the question, I asked it right back to other folks on LinkedIn and Slack.
I have since collected all the answers + explanations behind them, added them to my ongoing ‘books to investigate’ list, and put them together in this newsletter for you. But first:
What’s your reading strategy?
Until about ten years ago, not finishing books felt like a personal failure—cue the “lots of people are raving about [author or title] but I cannot get into it, why am I struggling?, something must be wrong with ME” inner monologue—so I slogged through a lot of things I should have abandoned after a few chapters.
These days, I do the opposite: I start four times as many books as I finish, and if I’m not into it by the first 20 pages I either fully move on or look for a blog post/ Ted Talk/ podcast interview with the author to get the TL;DR and hear the most important bits.
I’ve seen a similar approach summarised as ‘lots of inputs and a strong filter’ in a recent article, and thought it made for a nice piece of advice as you tackle the rest of this newsletter:
If you only pick up books you know with certainty you’re going to like you’ll confine yourself to reading the same authors on the same topics. It gives fresh oxygen to confirmation bias and limits your ability to connect the dots between different fields and different cultures. It’s better to have a low bar in what books you’re willing to try, and even the faintest tickle of interest should be enough to make the cut. […]
Once you’ve flooded your desk with inputs, you have to bring out the filter. It should be ruthless. Similar to dating, a book you’re not into after 10 minutes of attention has little chance of a happy ending. Slam it shut and move on. […]
This applies to more than reading books. It’s true for all kinds of data, research, conversation, and learning. Without flooding your brain with inputs you’ll be stuck in the tiny world of what you’ve personally experienced. But without a strong filter you’ll be overwhelmed with choice and paralyzed by inaction.
With that in mind: below are a lot of inputs. Activate your filter, and hopefully by the end there will be at least ONE book that works out for you 😉
5 books from my list
Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
📚 The blurb → From a renowned historian comes a groundbreaking narrative of humanity’s creation and evolution—a #1 international bestseller—that explores the ways in which biology and history have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be “human.”
💡 Recommended because → I pretty much had this face 🤯 the entire time. It’s also the only book I have both read and listened to as an audiobook—it was so outstanding I wanted to experience it across two different formats.
Richard Rumelt, Good Strategy, Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters
📚 The blurb → Good Strategy/Bad Strategy clarifies the muddled thinking underlying too many strategies and provides a clear way to create and implement a powerful action-oriented strategy for the real world.
💡 Recommended because → As a young marketer, I was told I wasn’t strategic enough and held back from a promotion because of that (…twice). This book helped me see that my former managers were wrong. They had confused being strategic with being loud and full of grand visionary ideas, which, yeah, I wasn’t—but that’s not what strategy is, either.
📚 The blurb → Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task, quickly master complicated information, and produce better results in less time. This book is an indispensable guide to anyone seeking focused success in a distracted world.
💡 Recommended because → this was the book behind my former employer Wildbit’s decision to permanently move to a 4-day workweek, which for me was a life-changing experience in and of itself. Is it one of those business books that could have been a blog post? Not quite, although I would have edited the whole thing down by ~25%. Nevertheless, if you are a remote knowledge worker and feel regularly overwhelmed and overworked, Newport’s tactical advice will definitely help you rethink and improve your approach.
Carol Fisher Saller, The Subversive Copy Editor: Or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself
📚 The blurb → Longtime manuscript editor and Chicago Manual of Style guru Carol Fisher Saller has negotiated many a standoff between a writer and editor refusing to compromise on the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of prose styling. In her search for practical strategies for keeping the peace, this book was born.
💡 Recommended because → This felt like an extended editorial pep talk and helped me own my role as someone working for the reader through the writer. It also covers way more than just editing—it’s about building trust, cultivating good work relationships, giving transparent and thoughtful feedback, taking responsibility, and knowing when to break the rules.
Jonathan and Melissa Nightingale, Unmanageable: Leadership Lessons from an Impossible Year
📚 The blurb → Bestselling authors and management experts Johnathan and Melissa Nightingale capture a year of leadership lessons, from the first COVID lockdowns to the first anniversary. Unmanageable is the definitive read on how it felt to adapt, reinvent, and lead during the most tumultuous time in a generation.
💡 Recommended because → The Nightingales and their newsletter have forever changed my way of understanding leadership and management, so of course I was always going to love their printed takes. Also, this book comes in a delightful shape—this is how it (right) compares to a standard paperback (left):
16 more books from people who actually read them
📚 The blurb → A former FBI hostage negotiator offers a field-tested approach to negotiating - effective in any situation.
💡 Recommended because → This book has been game-changing for my career 🙌 (Usman Akram)
📚 The blurb → No matter your goals, Atomic Habits offers a proven framework for improving—every day. James Clear, one of the world’s leading experts on habit formation, reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.
💡 Recommended because → I was actually able to ditch one habit after reading it. What I like most about the book is that it doesn’t give shallow advice. Also that it’s written in simple English. (Mona Mehta)
📚 The blurb → Poker champion turned decision strategist Annie Duke teaches you how to get comfortable with uncertainty and make better decisions.
💡 Recommended because → We can’t always determine if a decision was good or bad by the outcome. Hard concept to get my head around at first, but it’s absolutely true. (Emily L Phelps)
Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People (Revised)
📚 The blurb → This book teaches you how to communicate effectively, how to make people like you, how to increase your ability to get things done, how to get others to see your side, how to become a more effective leader, how to successfully navigate almost any social situation, and so much more.
💡 Recommended because → I read this some years back, it changed my life. I can never give it away. (Funmilola Fadairo)
📚 The blurb → In this generation-defining self-help guide, a superstar blogger cuts through the crap to show us how to stop trying to be "positive" all the time so that we can truly become better, happier people.
💡 Recommended because → I love how the writer talks about complex situations like casual conversations. Loved the analogies, and of course the disappointment panda 🐼 (Ekta Swarnkar)
Joseph Grenny et al., Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High
📚 The blurb → Crucial Conversations provides powerful skills to ensure every conversation―especially difficult ones―leads to the results you want.
💡 Recommended because → It’s changed the way I have conversations with people, including the tough conversations we all would prefer to avoid. It doesn’t matter what line of work you’re in, you will find this book useful. I highly recommend it. (Shari Berg)
Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth about Extraordinary Results
📚 The blurb → You’ll learn to: cut through the clutter, achieve better results in less time, build momentum toward your goal, dial down the stress, overcome that overwhelmed feeling, revive your energy, stay on track, and master what matters to you.
💡 Recommended because → I’ll save y’all the read (even though it’s a good one), just remember the question: “What is the one thing that I can do that will make everything else easier or even unnecessary?” I ask myself that a lot. Finding that and doing that feels great every time. (Jakub Grajcar)
📚 The blurb → A revised and updated edition of the acclaimed Wall Street Journal bestseller that explores why some leaders drain capability and intelligence from their teams while others amplify it to produce better results.
💡 Recommended because → Truly shaped how I look at my future in a management role and what I look for when taking a new position under new management. (Cory Puckett)
Rory Sutherland, Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life
📚 The blurb → Sutherland, the legendary Vice Chairman of Ogilvy, uses his decades of experience to dissect human spending behavior in an insanely entertaining way. Alchemy combines scientific research with hilarious stories and case studies of campaigns for AmEx, Microsoft and the like. This is a must-read.
💡 Recommended because → It really solidified why an understanding of behavioural science is important, and that unsolvable problems are probably unsolvable just because no one has tried solving them in a counterintuitive way yet. I read it a few years ago when it came out, and will read it again soon. (Renate Bakkeslett Hagen)
📚 The blurb → In this practical and witty book, you’ll learn to front-load your writing with pithy titles, subject lines, and opening sentences. You’ll acquire the courage and skill to purge weak and meaningless jargon, wimpy passive voice, and cowardly weasel words. And you’ll get used to writing directly to the reader to make every word count.
💡 Recommended because → Really great ways to identify and strip out, well, BS. (Emily L Phelps)
Susan Pinsky, Organizing Solutions for People with Adhd: Tips and Tools to Help You Take Charge of Your Life and Get Organized
📚 The blurb → This book offers cutting-edge strategies for anyone who wants to improve their physical space, time management, and peace of mind.
💡 Recommended because → This is not a business book, but it helped me really rethink a lot of the systems in my life. It was written by a mom who was a professional organizer and was trying to understand her child’s ADHD diagnosis. (Andrew Askins)
Annie Duke, Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away
📚 The blurb → Drawing on stories from elite athletes, founders of leading companies, and top entertainers, Duke explains why quitting is integral to success, as well as strategies for determining when to hold em, and when to fold em, that will save you time, energy, and money.
💡 Recommended because → She puts a very numbers-driven, rational approach to decision-making that is helpful for everyday thinking. (Stella Garber)
Julien Smith, The Flinch (free pdf)
📚 The blurb → A book so important we refuse to charge for it. The idea is simple: your flinch mechanism can save your life. It shortcircuits the conscious mind and allows you to pull back and avoid danger faster than you can even imagine it’s there. But what if danger is exactly what you need? What if facing the flinch is the one best way to get what you want?
💡 Recommended because → If it weren’t for that free book, I never would have started my first YouTube series which was the jumping-off point for me gaining any level of recognization in this field. (Tommy Walker)
Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Communicating
📚 The blurb → In this precise and practical guide, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh reveals how to listen mindfully and express your fullest and most authentic self.
💡 Recommended because → It helped me understand why compassionate speech matters, and yet so few people use it and understand its value. (Dave Dykes)
Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate
📚 The blurb → A brilliant explanation of why the climate crisis challenges us to abandon the core ‘free market’ ideology of our time, restructure the global economy, and remake our political systems.
💡 Recommended because → This has been an incredibly impactful read for me and changed my vision of things way beyond the environmental frame of the book. (Melissa Francois)
Kevin Dutton, Wisdom of Psychopaths
📚 The blurb → In this engrossing journey into the lives of psychopaths and their infamously crafty behaviors, the renowned psychologist Kevin Dutton reveals that there is a scale of "madness" along which we all sit.
💡 Recommended because → It’s a very different take on antisocial behaviour--what is generally assumed anti-social, that is. (Uroosa Kanwal)
…plus another 30ish notable mentions, in no particular order:
Luvvie Ajayi Jones, Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual
Mo Gawdat, Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy
Chip Heath et al., Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
Roger Von Oeach, A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative
Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
Janet Mills et al., The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
Darren Hardy, The Compound Effect: Jumpstart Your Income, Your Life, Your Success
Ann Handley, Everybody Writes
Joe Abercrombie, The Wisdom of Crowds
William Zinsser, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
Timothy Ferriss, Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World
Nassim Taleb, Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder
Kim Scott, Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
April Dunford, Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It
Michael Bungay Stanier, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever
Mark Schaefer, Known: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age
Adam Grant, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know
Sönke Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking
Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow
Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
Cluetrain Manifesto, https://www.cluetrain.com/
Dani Shapiro, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life
Jason Fried et al., Rework
Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants
Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph
William Strunk et al., The Elements of Style
Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
Simon Sinek, The Infinite Game
If you were not one of the people who replied to my original question, I’d love it if you would email me your answer: what book has made the biggest impact on your thinking and decision-making, and why?
I’m looking at you, Brené Brown, author of massive best-sellers about being brave and being fearless and whatnot, which people always rave about while I never manage to go past page ~75. I watched a bunch of your Ted Talks, though. I guess that counts…? 🤷♀️