At the start of every summer the organizers of the TED speaking conference take pity on those of us looking for book suggestions to fill up our beach bags or e-readers for the summer, asking some of the smartest people to grace their stage with what book they'd want to take with them to a desert island. 

Every year's list is a goldmine of eclectic ideas, from business books to page turners to graphic novels, but 2019 is a true bumper crop of great reads. The complete list runs to 151 ideas. Here's a small selection to get you started. 

Here's one if your summer goals are all about self improvement: "These four questions can help start you on the quest towards unraveling the tricks that our minds can play which lead to so much interpersonal conflict," claims educator Eldra Jackson

2. Cribsheet by Emily Oster​

I loved Oster's first book so I am all in for this suggestion from happiness researcher Elizabeth Dunn: "This book not only provides evidence-based recommendations and reassurance for new parents but also offers a highly accessible introduction to thinking critically about science." 

3. How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan 

"If there were one book that I could make everyone read... it would be this one," raves food innovator Bruce Friedrich. "Pollan brings his exceptional storytelling skills and his journalistic sense of skepticism to the history and the current science around psychedelics. Riveting, fascinating and enjoyable."

4. The Changeling by Victor LaValle

"I started this book on the day slotted for back-to-school clothes shopping for my kids, and we never made it to the store -- thus, my kids wore too-small clothes to the first day of school," confesses social scientist Dolly Chugh, who adds: "Be warned: This book leans scary -- not my usual fare but it was worth it." 

5. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

"I leave the heady intellectual recommendations to my colleagues on this list," says neuropsychologist Kim Gorgens. "This book is for the reader interested in escaping from reality, if only for a few pages at a time... a sweeping post-apocalyptic romp... Mandel's book is everything you want in a summer read: equal parts nail-biting anxiety, sadness, humor and sarcasm." 

6. The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

"Tharp is a dancer and choreographer, and I understand very little of that craft," admits economist Tim Harford. Nonetheless, "her book is a terrific source of battle-tested advice about hard work, surviving failure, and living a creative life. I often find myself thinking about its lessons and retelling the stories in my own talks." 

7. The Three Body Problem trilogy by Liu Cixin

One for the sci-fi fans: "this is the trilogy that brought contemporary Chinese science fiction to global prominence. It's simultaneously a history of earth's future after Chinese scientists make first contact with aliens, a theory about the (brutal) geopolitics of the universe, a 21st-century update to Asimov's Foundation series, and a fascinating exploration of how differently Western and Eastern cultures see individuals and institutions," explains entrepreneur Romain Lacombe.

8. The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson

Wilson's "incredibly contemporary-sounding translation throws you deep into one of the world's most amazing stories," claims publisher Chiki Sarkar. "There are monsters, magic and shipwrecks. But it's really about fathers and sons and a young man coming of age. If you want to read one classic this summer, read this."

Oprah Winfrey thinks everyone should read this book and language mentor Lydia Machova agrees. "This book has surprised me with hundreds of realizations about life, relationships, communication between people, emotions, and much more," she told TED. "The book may give you a new point-of-view on many situations and relationships in your life and possibly, a new outlook on the world." 

10. The Patterning Instinct by Jeremy Lent

"This is a really readable but comprehensive interrogation of the assumptions underlying our society, how they developed, and how they can be questioned and changed. This is a journey to the origins of everything from economics to media, science to spirituality, told in a way that helps us recognize the patterns and provokes our motivation to do better," says media theorist Douglas Rushkoff

11. An American Sickness by Elisabeth Rosenthal

"This book is a must-read for anyone who has anything to do with the US healthcare system -- as a patient, provider, taxpayer, onlooker, employee or anything else," insists journalist Jeanna Pinder. Well, that's every American then. 

12. Becoming by Michelle Obama

"This book tells the story that we often times do not hear -- we see successful people but never hear how they got there," explains educator Olympia della Flora in her glowing recommendation of the memoir by the former first lady

13. The Fearless Organization by Amy Edmondson 

Come back from summer a better leader with this pick. "This is the definitive guide to creating the conditions under which human beings can collaborate, innovate and thrive. It's the book you want when you're trying to do hard things with other people," says Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei.

14. Rebel Talent by Francesca Gino

"Her evidence-based take on rebels as innovators and positive change agents -- as opposed to the stereotypical person in arms against the opposition -- inspired me to lean into my own authentic rebel talents and to break some rules along the way," says social psychologist Leah Georges about this book by another HBS professor. 

15. Angels in the Sky by Robert Gandt​

A recommendation for fans of both history and pageturners from engineer Jonathan Wilker: "In 1948, Israel declared independence and five surrounding nations went to war. Learn how an international band of aviators scrounged airplanes and parts from all over the world to put together what became the Israeli Air Force. It's written like a movie script with a hook at the end of each chapter." 

16. Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Both technology mentor Nadjia Yousif and I are huge fans of these novels about the rise of Thomas Cromwell during the reign of King Henry VIII. They sounds like they might be stodgy, they're actually thrilling "Mantel is a genius writer, and the only disappointing thing is that the third installment isn't out yet ...," she writes. I couldn't agree more. 

17. Bad Habits: A Love Story by Cristy C. Road

And now for something a little bit different: a grpahic novel. "There's no other graphic novel that has impacted me more than Bad Habits. The artwork alone is astonishing, like kick-you-in-the-neck-and-shake-you-by-the-spirit type of artwork. Road is miraculous both as illustrator and author," raves writer Gabby Rivera

18. The Chemistry Book by Derek B. Lowe

"This book is a masterclass in science communication -- it's intriguing, informative, and most importantly, fun," claims molecular engineer Christopher Bahl. "With the help of beautiful visuals, Lowe succinctly explains complex scientific concepts, discoveries, laboratory equipment, techniques, and of course, the chemicals that are most important to our daily lives."

19. The Fifth Trimester by Lauren Smith Brody

"The first three trimesters take place during pregnancy, and people often refer to the 'fourth trimester' as the first three months after birth. Brody has coined the term 'fifth trimester,' referring to the time when mothers frequently go back to work after maternity leave," explains pediatrician Kimberly Noble. "This witty guide is hilarious and honest. It reads like having a conversation with a friend who understands the juggles and struggles that working parents face." 

20. Rage Becomes Her by Soraya Chemaly 

Feeling angry about the state of the world this summer? "Chemaly's well-grounded, feminist manifesto is a rallying cry for women to channel that rage towards action," says police captain and TED Fellow Ivonne Roman. 

Still not satisfied? One, congrats on all that reading. And two, check out other summer reading lists from luminaries like Bill Gates and Barack Obama, as well as data driven picks from Amazon. Happy reading! 

Published on: Jul 2, 2019
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