2017 book list: best of and most impactful

a few weeks back grant asked me what were the best books i read in 2017. i said i’d get back to him. today’s the day! it’s dec 29 and i can pretty safely say that i won’t finish anymore books this year. i surpassed my goodreads reading challenge goal and have read a total of 30 books this year.

screenshot of my goodreads reading challenge sticker showing that i committed to read 24 books this year and have read 30

as i was just trying to picked “the top” i was struggling harder than i thought i needed to. so what did i do? well, i started by making a short list of every book i thought could make the final list. i ended up with 10. in no particular order, i’ve got:

  1. deep work
  2. patternist series: part 1 & 2
  3. earthseed series: both parts
  4. mindstorms: children, computers, and powerful ideas
  5. pedagogy of the oppressed
  6. emergent strategy: shaping change, changing worlds
  7. octavia’s brood: science fiction stories from social justice movements
  8. from dictatorship to democracy
  9. the autobiography of malcolm x
  10. a small place

then i realized that as i tried to pick a top 3, i kept thinking about “why” that book would be in the top 3… and i realized i was sorting them into categories. like… “most surprising” or “made me feel the most feelings” etc.

i may come back and make all of those sublists later, but today i’ve decided to build the “most personally impactful” list. these are books that i either already and know will impact me deeply for the rest of my life. whether it was a mental paradigm shift or some learning that will applied forevermore, these are the books that have impacted or will impact me forever.

most personally impactful reads of 2017

1. emergent strategy

book cover of emergent strategy

obviously. this book is a literal game-changer for movement work. i’m gonna go ahead and say (as others have already said) that this is the movement book of 2017. this book (along with all about love) is my liberation investment strategy. i always have at least two copies on hand (well on my home bookshelf) and will buy it eagerly for anyone i think is willing to read a copy if they had it. i would rather put money into buying these books for people than a retirement plan. if we (our species) can figure out how to live like nature, which is what this book is all about, i think we can survive. without that learning, i think we’re fucked. this book, adrienne’s channelling of ancient wisdom for the present moment, is a guidebook, lovesong, and poem for people building towards liberation of all people.

must. read.

2a & 2b. pedagogy of the oppressed & mindstorms

book cover of pedagogy of the oppressed

book cover for mindstorms

ok so i’m cheating a bit with this one. in my mind, pedagogy of the oppressed is the “theory” and mindstorms is the “practice,” but both about the same core idea. (that’s not exactly right, but go with me for a second). the core idea is basically that: people aren’t fucking stupid. they know what they need to survive. in order for people to liberate themselves (which freire posits is, conceptually, genuinely, the only way liberation is possible) what needs to happen is the creation of the right conditions for people to apply what it is they know how to do (survive). anybody who thinks they can “save” someone else is sorely disillusioned and actually being oppressive. that’s pedagogy of the oppressed.

and then mindstorms is about setting up conditions, containers, in which people can learn through their own theories and then apply their learning to their own wold.

that’s a pretty sloppy summary, but it’ll stand for now. also, these two scholars were in conversation with each other sometimes and it’s a mindstorm (lol T_T) when i can actually keep up.

3. deep work

book cover of deep work

this book is on par with emergent strategy for impact on my life. newport’s thinking about what it takes to good, meaningful work is epic. it’s in line with things like flow and focus, but it deeply embeds the individual implementation in a context. my takeaways: shallow work is work we do that can be easily taught to other people. deep work is requires flow and structures that help understand how we need to relate our flow time, our deep work time, to the rest of the world.

and, if i think about it on a societal liberation scale, it makes reinforces my belief that each and every one of us has something unique to bring to our species. and we need to be (or maybe i’m feeling it’s my work to be) about building awareness of and structures that support everyone (everyone) to be able to do their deep work.

i have to note though that while this book will impact me deeply, it’s from a very misaligned perspective from my own. i’m beginning to get to the point where i can take something in, digest what i need from it, and leave the rest. for me, deep work carried a shitton of excellent thinking but from a pretty problematic place (white male computer programmer mostly unaware of his identity and how that impacts his experience).

still a hugely impactful book for me this year. i’m already embedding the thinking into my life and am feeling a level up for sure.

runner up: autobiography of malcolm x

cover of the autobiography of malcolm x

ok i was really gonna try to keep the list at 3, but i couldn’t leave this one off. this book is an unbelievable story about america, about race, about masculinity, about spirituality, about transformation, about love. malcolm from the beginning of the book to the end gives me real hope for each and every person on this planet. if he could experience all that he did and end up where he ended up, i believe that any of us and all of us have the capacity to start anywhere and get anywhere else. i’m upset at my self for having waited so long to read this.

ok! so that’s the top list! thanks again to grant for prompting this post. i started out 2017 with a plan to write something like this (inspired by shane parrish’s annual list on farnham street) but the push from grant made me start writing mine. in the i’ve been drafting this post, grant also sent me ezra klein’s top books from this year. i hope someday to have as many people read my annual book list as read klein’s.

(…actually, do i hope that? why? hm. ego?!?!?!?!? shit. lol. time to go meditate!)

oh, and here’s my short reviews of every book i read in 2017. definitely modeled off of what i’m reading that he started doing back in 2013. thanks for the inspiration.

words / writing / post-processing
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