One of the most fun days at work for me each year is when TED's annual list of summer reading recommendations comes out. The long catalog of excellent ideas suggested by the organization's smart and diverse speakers is always a blast to comb through. I never fail to find a few things to put on my to-read list.
This year's edition is no exception, even expanding on previous years to offer more than 100 books, as well as things to watch and listen to this summer. The whole thing is worth a look when you have some time to spare, but here's a quick list to the top 20 titles that might appeal to entrepreneurs, including everything from poetry to memoirs to brain-expanding history.
Happy summer reading.
1. The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
"This book reminds us that happiness is indeed the key to a successful life and high performance. Based on extensive research and mind-blowing studies, you'll learn to understand the dynamics of success," says e-governance expert Anna Piperal. Here's a quick preview of Achor's research and thinking.
2. How China Escaped the Poverty Trap by Yuen Yuen Ang
Want to end the summer a little more knowledgeable than you started it? Then innovation researcher Efosa Ojomo suggests How China Escaped the Poverty Trap: "Ang writes brilliantly about the delicate and interdependent relationship between private markets and public bureaucracy as it relates to creating prosperity. At the core of Ang's book and beyond the economic analysis, graphs and tables, is one word: Hope."
3. A Question of Freedom by Dwayne Betts
"Dwayne Betts writes about the impact of incarceration on Black men and how it ripples through the lives of the families that it impacts. He brings you through his own journey of incarceration and through his release, and he inspires me along the way with real stories that massage my desires to help create empathy in the world," says entrepreneur Marcus Bullock.
4. Love at Goon Park by Deborah Blum
This one is a lockdown related recommendation from technologist Kat Mustatea. "I re-read this nonfiction book during quarantine, and while it isn't new, it feels eerily relevant in a time when social distancing measures have forced us to pull away from the intimate human contact we all crave," she says of this nonfiction title, which tells the story of how scientists came to understand the vital importance of loving touch in human development.
5. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
"Octavia Butler was so ahead of her time," says author Joel Leon, recommending this classic of near-future sci-fi. "The world Octavia creates for the reader feels eerily like some serious foreshadowing of the 2020 world that we're currently faced with."
6. It's Never Too Late to Begin Again by Julia Cameron
The latest book from the best-selling author of The Artist's Way "was originally written for those embarking on a second act (new career, retirement, empty nest, or starting over in some way)," but during a pandemic "it can help those who are interested in using a creative process to reflect and reset," says accountant Estelle Gibson.
7. Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas
"This delightful and touching memoir describes Firoozeh Dumas's life after she and her family immigrated to the United States from Iran. As a first-generation immigrant with a similar background, I connected so much to this book and its lighthearted but poignant descriptions of immigrant life," says anthropologist Dorsa Amir.
8. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
A perfect pick for the middle of a global medical crisis: "This nonfiction book is an invitation to ponder what it means to live, and not only survive. I read this after my parents went through a series of health scares, and it gave me a window to ask them questions about their fears and wishes. It also took me on an introspective, soulful journey about our limited time on earth," says roboticist Catie Cuan.
9. Mini Habits by Stephen Guise
"I found this book so nourishing in a season when energy and morale have been low," says social entrepreneur Noeline Kirabo. "It inspired me to pick myself up by taking small steps towards the things that I know still matter in my life." Perhaps you can relate.
10. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
"This novel provided me with a sense of perspective during the toughest days of lockdown this year, reminding me that, however bad we think it is, there are always those who have endured more," says Lucy Hone, and as a resilience researcher she should know a thing or two about overcoming hard things.
11. An American Sunrise: Poems by Joy Harjo
A recommendation for poetry fans from activist Yifat Susskind: "This beautiful collection of poetry paints a picture of who we are as Americans--but also who we could be--from the perspective of the first Indigenous U.S. poet laureate."
12. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
Were you longing for nature during lockdown? Then artist Shantell Martin suggests this novel. "I just began this one, and I'm loving it," she says. "It tells the story of Sophia, a 6-year-old girl awakening to existence, and Sophia's grandmother, nearing the end of hers, as they spend the summer on a tiny, unspoiled island in the gulf of Finland."
13. Tribe by Sebastian Junger
Another pick inspired by lockdown reading, this time from artist Oliver Jeffers: "This short, nonfiction read begins with an exploration into why contemporary U.S. soldiers suffer PTSD more than those from any other nation at any point in history, but it morphs into the grander realization, that modernization breeds isolation and our entire sense of identities are built around the communities we are a part of. We need our people more than we know."
14. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
"One of the unexpected silver linings of lockdown and quarantine has been the ability to rediscover the joys of nature in our own backyards," says media futurist Caroline McCarthy. "There's no better book to read for renewing our connection with the natural world than Braiding Sweetgrass. The author is a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, so this set of loosely connected essays on plants and the rest of the natural world is a beautiful blend of science and spirituality."
15. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Looking for something to distract you from current reality? Then this horror pick from physician George C. Benjamin might just suit: "This novel is a truly great and terrifying, telling of the life of Vlad Tepes, a.k.a. Count Dracula. Its plot is innovative and riveting. Combining history, science fiction, and adventure, The Historian is not for the faint of heart."
16. The Overstory by Richard Powers
This one blew the top of my head off when I read it recently. Educator Laura Wright is equally enthusiastic about the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel: "I teach environmental literature, and much of what I read and teach can be very depressing and apocalyptic. The Overstory, by contrast, is oddly hopeful, a novel about environmental destruction that nonetheless leaves the reader feeling some sense of comfort."
17. The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn Saks
"This book is inspiring to me in so many ways," says psychiatrist Anees Bahji. "The author is a successful lawyer who has not only survived, but thrived, with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.... She states that having a mental illness, especially one as severe as schizophrenia, needn't define one's life, and she advocates that we are all more similar than we are different."
18. Small Is Beautiful by E.F. Shumacher
"Long before Marie Kondo asked us to throw out all things that do not bring us joy, renowned economist E.F. Shumacher was asking, Where is the rich society that says: 'Halt! We have enough!'" says gender equity expert Sara Sanford. "I've returned to Small Is Beautiful recently, to be nourished by his argument for economics as if people mattered."
19. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
"I find myself re-reading Lord of the Rings when there is upheaval or change in my life. My parents read it to me as a child, and some combination of that and Tolkien's gorgeous writing and fantasy-land, good-versus-evil vibes help center me," says farmer and entrepreneur Eric Sannerud. Maybe the fantasy classic would do the same for you this summer.