It's been a rough year for just about everyone, but with successful vaccines putting the end of the pandemic in sight, many of us are ready to start the process of making sense of our current struggles and getting psychologically ready for happier, more productive times to come.
Books can help.
As they do each year, the organizers of TED surveyed their speakers for holiday book recommendations, but this time around they asked specifically for reads that will leave you inspired and recharged for new challenges.
If that sounds like the kind of thing you'd like to enjoy (or gift) this holiday season, here is a sampling of their many recommendations most likely to appeal to the general reader (for more weird and wonderful niche selections, including kids books and science titles, check out the complete, long list here).
1. Confessions of a Radical Industrialist by Ray C. Anderson
2. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
"This summer, as Black Lives Matter protests gripped the nation, I retrieved an old, dog-eared copy of The Fire Next Time, a long-form essay exploring civil rights unrest published in 1963 by the incisive African American writer James Baldwin. I turned once again to him--not for comfort but for understanding--and once again he did not disappoint. It inspired me to keep seeking truth and to keep speaking truth," reports historian Hasan Kwame Jeffries.
3. The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky
"A week doesn't go by without my recommending this book to someone," claims A.I. specialist Ali Kashani. Belsky "paints a vivid picture of how messy it is to create and innovate. Dealing with uncertainty often turns out to be messier than we anticipate, and those who are not prepared or who have the wrong expectations give up too quickly. We can achieve groundbreaking innovations only when we embrace uncertainty."
4. Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight
If you haven't thought much of Douglass--who escaped enslavement to become a leading abolitionist--since school, "Blight's book brings this gifted, imperfect, extraordinary man to life. And, oh, what a life!" says journalist John Biewen.
5. The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro
"This is, perhaps, the single greatest book about politics and power you could ever hope to read. It inspired Barack Obama in his 20s, and we saw where that led," says educator Lucas Husted of this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of controversial New York City power broker and "master builder" Robert Moses.
6. Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn
"I thought about these characters for weeks after I read this novel--I wanted to call up Tru and find out how she was doing; I wanted to hear if Patsy got a better job. Nicole Dennis-Benn has written characters who are flawed and still lovable, cowardly and still brave, tragic and yet heroic. Just go read it," urges data journalist Mona Chalabi.
7. The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Edith Eva Eger
"This is a beautiful memoir by a Holocaust survivor turned clinical psychologist, reminiscent of the great works of Anne Frank and Viktor Frankl. But it's more than a book--it is a work of art. It gave me goosebumps," reports Wharton professor and author Adam Grant.
8. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters: Book One by Emil Ferris
"This is a book that inspires me just by existing--a massive, award-winning graphic novel, with 416 pages (in this volume) of densely cross-hatched drawings, done primarily in Bic pen. A regular ballpoint! Every time I see it, I'm reminded that I don't need perfect equipment to make things; I just need to let my brain get weird and dive in," notes podcast host Saleem Reshamwala.
9. The Autobiography of Ben Franklin
10. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
A poignant recommendation from psychologist Gil Winch given Hsieh's recent tragic passing: "What makes Tony Hsieh's recounting of Zappos's journey from startup to billion-dollar company inspiring to me is the power of believing in your mission when you're trying to accomplish something that hasn't been done before."
11. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
"This book was actually an 'anti-inspiration' for me," recalls Supreme Court litigator Neal Katyal. "After reading it, I realized I was so taken with Jobs's genius I started to emulate him subconsciously at work--being more dismissive of my colleagues and trying to bend reality to my will. I realized it was not only jerk-like but bad for productivity. Almost always, the best and most transformative moves are made in groups."
12. See No Stranger by Valarie Kaur
"See No Stranger is a perfectly timed book," claims activist and CEO Nisha Anand. "When others see America descending into darkness, Valarie Kaur asks us to reimagine ourselves, our connection to one another and to society. She presents revolutionary love as the call of our time--reclaiming love from mere sentimentality and recasting it as a potent force for social change."
13. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Recommended by both entrepreneur Tom Schuler and writer Chloé Valdary, this classic dive into the leadership skills of Abraham Lincoln "showed me how important it is to surround yourself with those who have demonstrated excellence in their chosen field--even if this includes those who are your political rivals vying for your seat," says Valdary.
14. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
"I originally sought out [Lamott's] book to help me get through a creative rut and spiritual ennui when all of us first found ourselves in quarantine. But when you read this book, it's more than just practical writing tips (of which there are plenty). She uses her writing exercises or lessons as a way to help us more deeply understand ourselves and the human condition in all its messiness. If you're looking for sense-making and meaning during this deeply destabilizing time, this book is timeless," says journalist Elise Hu.
15. The 99% Invisible City by Roman Mars
"This book--a spinoff from an inspirational podcast--is perfect for dipping into," notes researcher Karen Scrivener. "It introduces you to things in our everyday world that we've probably never thought about before, such as manhole covers, and celebrates them. The whole book is a marvelous celebration of all the creativity which goes into so many things around us."
16. Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction by Annalee Newitz
"The thing I love most about this book is how Annalee Newitz started writing this book with a fairly gloomy outlook, but, after much fascinating research, she came out on the other side feeling hopeful for humanity. Getting inspired by how we can survive the worst feels like an appropriate and cathartic read for 2020," says Antarctic explorer Ariel Waldman.
17. In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
"When I travel, I've made a habit of reading a book set in the place I'm visiting. I read this novel while in Cambodia; it's loosely based on Vaddey Ratner's own childhood under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. Despite its bleak subject, the book is beautiful and even joyful," recalls artist Nirupa Rao. "In the touching determination of a father to help his daughter see beauty amidst despair, I understood the true power of imagination."
18. Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray
"I fell deeply in love with this book as it switched between a memoir of a poor childhood in a junkyard and the raw beauty of a rare, long-pine ecosystem. It made me consider how rural America is filled with both stunning landscapes and meaningful but also difficult lives and the strength to overcome," reports animal rights activist Leah Garcés.
19. Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl
"Save Me the Plums is the memoir of writer Ruth Reichl as she moves from the free-wheeling food scene of Berkeley, California, into the often baffling world of corporate media when she becomes the editor of Gourmet magazine. It is, at times, fun culinary escapism," says entrepreneur Erin Baumgartner, but it also "sings a song of encouragement to female leaders, to people looking to pivot in their careers, and underlines the all-too-often overlooked importance of having a few good friends along for the ride."
20. Voicing Change by Rich Roll
"The author is a former lawyer who struggled with addiction, before turning his life around and becoming one of the best ultra-endurance athletes in the world. He now hosts a wide-ranging podcast that frequently highlights personal transformation. This book is a collection of stories, wisdom, and some original essays from many of his most fascinating guests," explains science reporter David Epstein. "Truly, you can just flip to any page and glean a bit of inspiration for the day."
21. The Cathedral Within by Bill Shore
"Imagine, as the book describes, the work of the great cathedral builders of the world. They were building a beautiful legacy of structures that they knew they might never see completion of in their lifetimes, yet it never deterred them. They never stopped building ... just as we need to do," says equity advocate Nita Mosby Tyler, recommending this book by social entrepreneur Bill Shore profiling people who achieved amazing things.
22. The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel
"The Glass Universe tells the inspiring and breathtaking story of a group of very remarkable women who changed forever our understanding of the stars in the firmament. The so-called 'calculators' included Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, among others, who were living in a world of science dominated by men. They forever changed the history of astronomy and inspired generations of scientists for centuries to come," explains educator Fabio Pacucci.
23. Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance
"Love him or hate him, you have to admit that Elon Musk has defied the odds to bring transformative innovations to market on earth and in space. Vance's biography shows Musk at his lowest points and culminates in his dual triumphs at Tesla and SpaceX. Musk is proof that it's possible to pick the hardest problems--tackling climate change and making humanity a spacefaring civilization--and make meaningful progress through willpower, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship," says executive and physicist Varun Sivaram.