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If catching up on your reading is something you’d like to do this summer, be very selective with the titles you pick. Chances are you’ll read less than you expect, so make each book count. To simplify your search for the best nonfiction books, here’s a list that includes a psychology book, a leadership book, a book on creativity, a memoir, and a nature book.
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
I had high expectations when I picked up this popular psychology book, but when I finished reading it, I thought it was overrated. But months later I went back to it and reread some chapters, and since then it’s become one of the books on my bedside table. Some people say Gilbert’s writing style is arrogant, so it may not appeal to everyone, but there’s no doubt it’s witty. Stumbling on Happiness is not exactly a self-help book, so if you’re looking for the secret of happiness, you won’t find it here. Instead, what you’ll find are many surprising facts about memory, imagination, perception, and, of course, happiness.
Recommended for: those interested in how the mind works
Favourite quote: “We see things that aren’t really there and we remember things that didn’t really happened, and while these may sound like symptoms of mercury poisoning, they are actually critical ingredients in the recipe for a seamlessly smooth and blessedly normal reality.”
The 3rd Alternative: Solving Life’s Most Difficult Problems by Stephen R. Covey
If the author’s name sounds familiar, you may have heard about his most famous book (so far), The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Though The 3rd Alternative is nowhere near as popular as The 7 Habits, it’s a great book on conflict resolution. Though you can grasp the core idea from the first two chapters, the rest of the book offers many examples of how to apply the 3rd Alternative to many areas of life, from work and family to society. You’ll discover how to look for optimal solutions to your problems by aiming for synergy rather than compromise.
Recommended for: everyone
Favourite quote: “It’s the nature of 3rd Alternative mentality always to be seeking something higher and better from life. We may get satisfaction from past accomplishments, but the next great contribution is always on the horizon.”
How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention and Discovery by Kevin Ashton
Kevin Ashton is the person who coined the term “Internet of Things” way back in 1999, so when I bought this book, I expected it to revolve around technology, but I discovered it’s about more than that. The author dispels the myth of creativity—that it requires genius or eureka moments—and shows that breakthroughs in art, technology, and science require hard work and perseverance. After reading How to Fly a Horse, you’ll feel more confident about your own ability to innovate.
Recommended for: everyone
Favourite quote: “Creation is attention. It is seeing new problems, noticing the unnoticed, finding inattentional blind spots.”
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
It takes no more than a couple of hours to finish this short book, so it’s perfect for reading on a flight. While this memoir is centred on the author’s preparation for a marathon, it’s much more than a book on running. It touches on many other topics, from mindfulness to aging. And if you do like running, this book may motivate you to stick to your exercise routine, though it’s not the author’s goal to inspire anyone to work out.
As a nonfiction editor, I recommend this book to those who are writing a memoir but are struggling to find their genuine voice, as well as to those who think that only an extraordinary life event warrants writing a memoir.
Recommended for: anyone with an interest in running or memoirs
Favourite quote: “As I run I tell myself to think of a river. And clouds. But essentially I’m not thinking of a thing. All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says.”
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
More than a book for “tree huggers”, The Hidden Life of Trees is one of the best nonfiction books for anyone who enjoys a walk in nature. The author blends engaging storytelling, personal anecdotes, and ground-breaking research to create powerful narratives which will captivate you as well as broadening your view of nature. After reading this book, you’ll never look at trees with the same eyes again.
Recommended for: those who love nature or are interested in ecology
Favourite quote: “Under the canopy of the trees, daily dramas and moving love stories are played out.”
British writer E.M. Forster said, “The only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little further down our particular path than we have yet gone ourselves”, and I agree with this statement. Even if the nonfiction books on this list won’t change your life, I hope you’ll enjoy reading them at least as much as I did.