Here is an excerpt from Adam Grant’s blog on the most influential books of the past decade followed by a little something on books such as The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink, Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and more.
Every once in a while, we read a book that doesn’t just transform the way we see the world. It also changes how we live our lives. For the past ten years, I’ve been asking business leaders and students which book has most influenced their actions. I give them one rule: it must include rigorous evidence. Pure self-help and autobiographies are out; so are books by leaders dispensing advice. (Experience isn’t a substitute for evidence. If it were, obeying the laws of gravity would make us all physicists.)
I’ve compiled a list of the most frequently mentioned book for each year, with one additional rule: no author can appear twice. Here are the top picks:
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Most Influential Books – 2004: The Paradox of Choice
The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz
In the spirit of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, a social critique of our obsession with choice, and how it contributes to anxiety, dissatisfaction and regret. This paperback includes a new P.S. section with author interviews, insights, features, suggested readings, and more.
Whether we’re buying a pair of jeans, ordering a cup of coffee, selecting a long-distance carrier, applying to college, choosing a doctor, or setting up a 401(k), everyday decisions–both big and small–have become increasingly complex due to the overwhelming abundance of choice with which we are presented.
We assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. But beware of excessive choice: choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress. And, in a culture that tells us that there is no excuse for falling short of perfection when your options are limitless, too much choice can lead to clinical depression.
Most Influential Books – 2005: A Whole New Mind
A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink
The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: artists, inventors, storytellers-creative and holistic “right-brain” thinkers whose abilities mark the fault line between who gets ahead and who doesn’t.
Drawing on research from around the world, Pink (author of To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Motivating Others) outlines the six fundamentally human abilities that are absolute essentials for professional success and personal fulfillment–and reveals how to master them. A Whole New Mind takes readers to a daring new place, and a provocative and necessary new way of thinking about a future that’s already here.
Most Influential Books – 2006: Mindset
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
World-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, in decades of research on achievement and success, has discovered a truly groundbreaking idea–the power of our mindset.
Dweck explains why it’s not just our abilities and talent that bring us success–but whether we approach them with a fixed or growth mindset. She makes clear why praising intelligence and ability doesn’t foster self-esteem and lead to accomplishment, but may actually jeopardize success. With the right mindset, we can motivate our kids and help them to raise their grades, as well as reach our own goals–personal and professional. Dweck reveals what all great parents, teachers, CEOs, and athletes already know: how a simple idea about the brain can create a love of learning and a resilience that is the basis of great accomplishment in every area.
Most Influential Books – 2007: The No Asshole Rule
Expletive or not, by the end of this book, listeners will be desensitized to the word “asshole,” which is said hundreds of times in this audiobook. Sutton’s premise seems pretty simple: get rid of arrogant jerks in the work place from every level of an organization. Through each chapter, he explores a different aspect of assholes, from identifying the type to dealing with them to what one should do if they believe they are an asshole to why it may be beneficial to keep one or two around. You’d think with a title like The No Asshole Rule, some humor would follow, but that’s where the book falters. It’s too serious and often too simplistic in its resolutions for curing the asshole problem at work. Sutton’s reading of his own words lacks conviction. The interview with the author at the end proves interesting since his answers feel more candid than the rehearsed words of the audiobook.
Most Influential Books – 2008: Outliers
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
In this stunning new book, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of “outliers”–the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different?
His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Along the way he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.
Most Influential Books – 2009: The Talent Code
The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. by Daniel Coyle
What is the secret of talent? How do we unlock it? In this groundbreaking work, journalist and New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle provides parents, teachers, coaches, businesspeople—and everyone else—with tools they can use to maximize potential in themselves and others.
Whether you’re coaching soccer or teaching a child to play the piano, writing a novel or trying to improve your golf swing, this revolutionary book shows you how to grow talent by tapping into a newly discovered brain mechanism.
Drawing on cutting-edge neurology and firsthand research gathered on journeys to nine of the world’s talent hotbeds—from the baseball fields of the Caribbean to a classical-music academy in upstate New York—Coyle identifies the three key elements that will allow you to develop your gifts and optimize your performance in sports, art, music, math, or just about anything.
Most Influential Books – 2010: Switch
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath
The primary obstacle is a conflict that’s built into our brains, say Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the critically acclaimed bestseller Made to Stick. Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems—the rational mind and the emotional mind—that compete for control. The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine. This tension can doom a change effort—but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.
Most Influential Books – 2011: Thinking, Fast and Slow
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
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.
Most Influential Books – 2012: Quiet
At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society.
In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts—from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.
Most Influential Books – 2013: Lean In
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.
Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and is ranked on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. In 2010, she gave an electrifying TEDTalk in which she described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. Her talk, which became a phenomenon and has been viewed more than two million times, encouraged women to “sit at the table,” seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto.
Most Influential Books – 2014: A Path Appears
A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
An essential, galvanizing narrative about making a difference here and abroad—a road map to becoming the most effective global citizens we can be.
In their number one New York Times best seller Half the Sky, husband-and-wife team Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn brought to light struggles faced by women and girls around the globe, and showcased individuals and institutions working to address oppression and expand opportunity. A Path Appears is even more ambitious in scale: nothing less than a sweeping tapestry of people who are making the world a better place and a guide to the ways that we can do the same—whether with a donation of $5 or $5 million, with our time, by capitalizing on our skills as individuals, or by using the resources of our businesses.