This might go down as my favorite year of reading. I made it a goal to read more the last two years, and the momentum from 2018 definitely carried over into 2019. Reading inspired my travel to new places and offered side trips of meaning in places I’ve been many times before. It kicked me in the backside with work, writing, exercise and diet, and it inspired me to be a better version of myself than I previously had been. I’m still a work in progress, but aren’t we all? In all I read 23 books cover-to-cover in 2019, and dabbled in chapters of a few more. Here are my ten favorite books this year:
Atomic Habits by James Clear was by far the most impactful book on self-improvement that I’ve read in many years. Strongly recommend this if you’re looking to make meaningful changes in your life. I’m going to re-read it again in January to get a jump-start on 2020. Habits that are now part of my identity include reading, writing, walking and drinking water. Habits that went by the wayside include daily burpees and drinking less. 2020 (every day really) offers a chance to reset on habits, with new possibilities with learning language(s) and a few notable work goals.
The Gift by Hafiz is a stunningly beautiful collection of poems. Why it took me until 2019 to find Hafiz I don’t know… but I’m glad I got here.
Dream Work by Mary Oliver is another collection of brilliant poetry that it took me way too long in life to discover. Maybe Oliver’s passing this year put a spotlight on her work, or maybe the student was finally ready. Either way I’m glad I’ve immersed myself in the world of Mary Oliver.
To Shake the Sleeping Self: A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia by Jedidiah Jenkins is a travel book on the one hand, and a journey of self-discovery one the other as Jenkins wrestles with his religious upbringing and his sexual identity during an epic biking trip across North and South America. The book reinforces my belief that most people are good while acknowledging some good fortune along the way. As a bonus, Jenkins pointed me towards one Hafiz poem, Tim Ferriss pointed me towards another, and soon I was reading The Gift (above).
Awareness by Anthony De Mello is not the kind of book I ever would have picked up, as it feels self-helpy and overly religious at first glance. And it does have a healthy dose of both things, but this books is an incredible call to action for the self, and backed up with tremendous insight into human nature. Another book I wish I’d read years ago that I’m glad I got to in 2019.
How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman is a book I’ve had on the shelf for years that I finally got to in 2019. Perhaps inspired by my then upcoming trip to Scotland, I burned through the book quickly, learning a lot about the Scottish people who made a massive impact on the world we live in today. It also prompted me to add a few places to my trip that I might not otherwise have gone to.
The Map Thief by Michael Blanding poured gasoline on my burning fascination with old maps, and fired me up in another way; as someone who is passionate about historical artifacts like maps and old books, and also in a career based on securing people and assets from criminals like Forbes Smiley, this book was highly relevant for me.
The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America by Walter R. Borneman offered me more insight into the place I live than any history book in a long time. The Northeast corner of North America is where most of this fighting took place, and I took the opportunity to visit many historically important sites in my travels that were inspired by this book.
Benedict Arnold’s Navy: The Ragtag Fleet That Lost the Battle of Lake Champlain But Won the American Revolution by James L. Nelson is a look at the complex individual that is Benedict Arnold. And it goes well beyond the Battle of Lake Champlain, with a detailed account of Arnold’s epic raid of Quebec through the wilderness of Maine. The retreat from Quebec opened up the St Lawrence River to the British, which put Lake Champlain and Lake George in their sites as the critical water route to the Hudson River. Arnold’s fleet delayed the British just long enough to set up the victory at Saratoga (where Arnold played a critical role as well). I followed this book by reading Valiant Ambition by Nathanial Philbrick, another excellent book with even more detail on complicated life of Benedict Arnold. Benedict Arnold’s Navy inspired that read, so it gets the nod here in the top ten.
The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday is, as the title indicates, meant to be read daily, one quick dose of stoic medicine at a time. After immersing myself in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations in 2018, I felt that The Daily Stoic would be a great way to add a little daily stoicism to my life. And it became part of my morning routine, where I’d read this before other books. I’ll continue this habit by re-reading The Daily Stoic one day at a time in 2020 and on into the future.
So there you go, my top ten favorite reads in 2019. I’m a better person for having read them all, and look forward to revisiting several of them again and again in the years to come. I’m a better writer for having read them all (still a work in progress). And there’s a big stack of exciting books to tackle waiting patiently beside them. So here’s to some great reading in the year ahead!