21 Books Recommended for 2021
Jan 13, 2021 5:15:00 PM
So many books, so little time!
A friend recently said she spent an afternoon identifying her reading list for the coming year. Books have always been precious to me, and I consume them for their promise to educate, entertain, and at times, to escape. In 2020, books were too often a way to distract me from my current situation and take me to another place or time. My friend’s disciplined approach struck me as a powerful way to be intentional about what will inspire and influence my creative expression this year.
Storytelling can elevate the human condition but words can also bring us low. My mantra last year was to “Own My Story” and my energy went toward getting my technology house in order. In 2021 my mantra will not change but where I focus my energy will be different. For me, there has never been a more important time to promote and lift others up to fulfill their unique purpose at work and in the larger world. The books I selected focus on transforming my story in a meaningful way. I thought they might help transform yours as well.
The books (print, e-books, and audible) on my 2021 reading list represent personal interests, values, and learning opportunities. Three of the books on my list were unfinished from 2020 but highly deserving of my recommitment. The Four Agreements is a book I have read several times and have felt called to revisit. Others were selected based on beloved authors or topics. The essence of my selections are intended to promote positivity, inspiration, and wholeness that supports bringing one’s best self to meaningful endeavors.
The poem is by Tanya Markul, from The She Book which is on my 2021 booklist below. It gave me goosebumps when I read it and I hope you enjoy its message as much as I did!
There’s a time for cord-cutting, letting go, and breaking free.
There’s a time for shape-shifting, evolving, and time-traveling.
There’s a time for forgiveness, stillness, and empathy.
There’s a time for heart-mending.
strength-building, and surviving.
There’s a time for waking wild, moon-bathing, and being messy.
There’s a time for just letting you be you and what will be, be.
1. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
By James Clear (Author)
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.
2. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
Nobel Peace Prize Laureates His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have survived more than fifty years of exile and the soul-crushing violence of oppression. Despite their hardships—or, as they would say, because of them—they are two of the most joyful people on the planet.
3. Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art
By James Nestor (Author)
No matter what you eat, how much you exercise, how skinny or young or wise you are, none of it matters if you’re not breathing properly.
There is nothing more essential to our health and well-being than breathing: take air in, let it out, repeat twenty-five thousand times a day. Yet, as a species, humans have lost the ability to breathe correctly, with grave consequences.
Modern research is showing us that making even slight adjustments to the way we inhale, and exhale can jump-start athletic performance; rejuvenate internal organs; halt snoring, asthma, and autoimmune disease; and even straighten scoliotic spines. None of this should be possible, and yet it is.
4. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
By Isabel Wilkerson (Author)
In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.
Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more.
5. Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It
By Ethan Kross (Author)
Tell a stranger that you talk to yourself, and you’re likely to get written off as eccentric. But the truth is that we all have a voice in our head. When we talk to ourselves, we often hope to tap into our inner coach but find our inner critic instead. When we’re facing a tough task, our inner coach can buoy us up: Focus—you can do this. But, just as often, our inner critic sinks us entirely: I’m going to fail. They’ll all laugh at me. What’s the use?
In Chatter, acclaimed psychologist Ethan Kross explores the silent conversations we have with ourselves. Interweaving groundbreaking behavioral and brain research from his own lab with real-world case studies and explains how these conversations shape our lives, work, and relationships. He warns that giving in to negative and disorienting self-talk—what he calls “chatter”—can tank our health, sink our moods, strain our social connections, and cause us to fold under pressure.
6. The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know
In The Confidence Code, journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman travel to the frontiers of neuroscience on a hunt for the confidence gene and reveal surprising new research on its roots in our brains. They visit the world’s leading psychologists who explain how we can all choose to become more confident simply by taking action and courting risk, and how those actions change our physical wiring. They interview women leaders from the worlds of politics, sports, the military, and the arts to learn how they have tapped into this elemental resource. They examine how a lack of confidence impacts our leadership, success, and fulfillment.
7. The Courage to Be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness
Rich in wisdom, The Courage to Be Disliked will guide you through the concepts of self-forgiveness, self-care, and mind decluttering. It is a deeply liberating way of thinking, allowing you to develop the courage to change and ignore the limitations that you might be placing on yourself. This plainspoken and profoundly moving book unlocks the power within you to find lasting happiness and be the person you truly want to be. Millions have already benefited from its teachings, now you can too.
8. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
By Don Miguel Ruiz (Author)
Author don Miguel Ruiz reveals the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. The Four Agreements offer a powerful code of conduct that can rapidly transform our lives to a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love.
9. A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life
By Parker J. Palmer Author)
Palmer Parker speaks to our yearning to live undivided lives―lives that are congruent with our inner truth―in a world filled with the forces of fragmentation.
Mapping an inner journey that we take in solitude and in the company of others, Palmer describes a form of community that fits the limits of our active lives. Defining a “circle of trust” as “a space between us that honors the soul,” he shows how people in settings ranging from friendship to organizational life can support each other on the journey toward living “divided no more.”
10. Leading Without Authority: How the New Power of Co-Elevation Can Break Down
When external pressures are mounting, and employees are working from far-flung locations across the globe, says bestselling author Keith Ferrazzi, we can no longer afford to waste time navigating the complex chains of command or bureaucratic bottlenecks present in most companies. But when we choose the bold new methodology of co-elevation as our operating model, we unlock the potential to boost productivity, deepen commitment and engagement, and create a level of trust, mutual accountability, and purpose that exceeds what could have been accomplished under the status quo.
11. The Outward Mindset: Seeing Beyond Ourselves
By The Arbinger Institute (Author)
Without even being aware of it, many of us operate from an inward mindset, a single-minded focus on our own goals and objectives. This book points out the many ways, some quite subtle and deceptive, that this mindset invites tension and conflict. But incredible things happen when people switch to an outward mindset. They intuitively understand what coworkers, colleagues, family, and friends need to be successful and happy. Their organizations thrive, and astonishingly, by focusing on others they become happier and more successful themselves! This new mindset brings about deep and far-reaching changes.
12. Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAIN
By Tara Brach
Tara Brach is an in-the-trenches teacher whose work counters today’s ever-increasing onslaught of news, conflict, demands, and anxieties–stresses that leave us rushing around on auto-pilot and cut off from the presence and creativity that give our lives meaning
In this heartfelt and deeply practical book, she offers an antidote: an easy-to-learn four-step meditation that quickly loosens the grip of difficult emotions and limiting beliefs. Each step in the meditation practice (Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture) is brought to life by memorable stories shared by Tara and her students as they deal with feelings of overwhelm, loss, and self-aversion, with painful relationships, and past trauma–and as they discover step-by-step the sources of love, forgiveness, compassion, and deep wisdom alive within all of us.
13. Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself
By Kristin Neff (Author)
From leading psychologist Dr. Kristin Neff comes a step-by-step guide explaining how to be more self-compassionate and achieve your dreams in life.
The relentless pursuit of high self-esteem has become a virtual religion – and a tyrannical one at that. Our ultracompetitive culture tells us we need to be constantly above average to feel good about ourselves, but there is always someone more attractive, successful, or intelligent than we are.
Fortunately, there is an alternative to self-esteem that many experts believe is a better and more effective path to happiness: self-compassion. The research of Dr. Kristin Neff and other leading psychologists indicates that people who are compassionate toward their failings and imperfections experience greater well-being than those who repeatedly judge themselves.
14. Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain
By Lisa Feldman Barrett (Author)
Have you ever wondered why you have a brain? Let renowned neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett demystify that big gray blob between your ears. In seven short essays (plus a bite-sized story about how brains evolved), this slim, entertaining, and accessible collection reveals mind-expanding lessons from the front lines of neuroscience research. You’ll learn where brains came from, how they’re structured (and why it matters), and how yours works in tandem with other brains to create everything you experience. Along the way, you’ll also learn to dismiss popular myths such as the idea of a “lizard brain” and the alleged battle between thoughts and emotions, or even between nature and nurture, to determine your behavior.
15. The She Book
By Tanya Markul (Author)
The She Book is a collection of 114 poems, prose, and quotes written for you.
Crafting together the power of words and womanhood, writer Tanya Markul has written a completely unique poetry collection fit for the phenomenal readers of today.
In Tanya’s words, “May we raise the bar for how we live our lives. May we ridiculously increase the amount of peace, play, creativity, beauty, love, and joy in everything we do. May we all sip from the wisdom of our suffering. And awaken with the courage to share our stories that can heal our inner and outer worlds.”
16. Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know
By Adam Grant (Author)
Intelligence is usually seen as the ability to think and learn, but in a rapidly changing world, there’s another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn. In our daily lives, too many of us favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt. We listen to opinions that make us feel good, instead of ideas that make us think hard. We see disagreement as a threat to our egos, rather than an opportunity to learn. We surround ourselves with people who agree with our conclusions, when we should be gravitating toward those who challenge our thought process. The result is that our beliefs get brittle long before our bones. We think too much like preachers defending our sacred beliefs, prosecutors proving the other side wrong, and politicians campaigning for approval–and too little like scientists searching for truth. Intelligence is no cure, and it can even be a curse: being good at thinking can make us worse at rethinking. The brighter we are, the blinder to our own limitations we can become.
17. Thinking, Fast and Slow
In the international bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, the renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The impact of overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning our next vacation—each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems shape our judgments and decisions.
18. Think Outside the Building: How Advanced Leaders Can Change the World One Smart Innovation at a Time
By Rosabeth Moss Kanter (Author)
Over a decade ago, renowned innovation expert Rosabeth Moss Kanter co-founded and then directed Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative. Her breakthrough work with hundreds of successful professionals and executives, as well as aspiring young entrepreneurs, identifies the leadership paradigm of the future: the ability to “think outside the building” to overcome establishment paralysis and produce significant innovation for a better world.
Kanter provides extraordinary accounts of the successes and near-stumbles of purpose-driven men and women from diverse backgrounds united in their conviction that positive change is possible.
By Glennon Doyle (Author)
In her most revealing and powerful memoir yet, the activist, speaker, bestselling author, and “patron saint of female empowerment” (People) explores the joy and peace we discover when we stop striving to meet others’ expectations and start trusting the voice deep within us.
20. A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload
By Cal Newport (Author)
We have become so used to an inbox-driven workday that it’s hard to imagine alternatives. But they do exist. Drawing on years of investigative reporting, author and computer science professor Cal Newport makes the case that our current approach to work is broken, then lays out a series of principles and concrete instructions for fixing it. In A World without Email, he argues for a workplace in which clear processes–not haphazard messaging–define how tasks are identified, assigned and reviewed. Each person works on fewer things (but does them better), and aggressive investment in support reduces the ever-increasing burden of administrative tasks. Above all else, important communication is streamlined, and inboxes and chat channels are no longer central to how work unfolds.
21. You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters
By Kate Murphy (Author)
Despite living in a world where technology allows constant digital communication and opportunities to connect, it seems no one is really listening or even knows how. And it’s making us lonelier, more isolated, and less tolerant than ever before. A listener by trade, New York Times contributor Kate Murphy wanted to know how we got here.
In this always illuminating and often humorous deep dive, Murphy explains why we’re not listening, what it’s doing to us, and how we can reverse the trend. She makes accessible the psychology, neuroscience, and sociology of listening while also introducing us to some of the best listeners out there.