"Readers are leaders."

That's a quote from my dad, something he used to say multiple times to me when I was growing up. I took the advice seriously. I read about 4-5 books per month at least, sometimes more. Lately, I've been on the look-out for books that would appeal to almost anyone, the titles that have that extra wow factor.

These are my picks for books to give as gifts, not as a coffee-table adornment but because they have a wealth of insight. When you start reading any of these, be warned--they hook you with incredible detail and practical advice (not to mention brisk writing).


Published in April of this year, Factfulness is a must-read for anyone in business. It's not only one of the best of the year, it is one of the best of the decade. Hans Rosling, who died in 2017, wrote the book with his son and daughter-in-law. It's jaw-dropping from start to finish. Rosling explains how some of the data we think we know--say, about poverty or disease--is not quite accurate, and he makes the case for analytics that are rich in truth and meaning.

Leadership: In Turbulent Times

My favorite book on leadership of the year, this historical work looks at the lives of famous Presidents including Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman to dissect what made them such capable leaders. It's an entertaining read, a page-turner with keen insight about the use of power, serving those under your command, and holding fast to a higher cause.

The Laws of Human Nature

The most curious thing about The Laws of Human Nature, a book by author Robert Greene, is that I didn't always agree with the advice about how to exert power over others, but the lessons have profound implications. There's a chapter on reading body language that is absolutely profound; each "law" has stunningly vivid descriptions of an historical figure.

Springfield Confidential

It might be hard to describe a book about The Simpsons cartoon as insightful, but somehow author Mike Reiss pulls it off. As much about the process of writing and a writing career as anything, Springfield Confidential is one of the funniest books I've ever read. Reiss explains how he started out in the field, includes quirky facts about the show and bears his writing soul.


Steven Johnson is one of my favorite writers, and Farsighted offers his typical keen understanding about how we make decisions and predict outcomes. He uses salient examples that seem to jump off the page, including why New York City decided to fill a polluted pond. What worked for me is the writing style--breezy, not overly scholarly, and yet insightful.

This is Marketing

Could one book possibly summarize the ideas of someone who has written about marketing since 2004? This is Marketing is certainly a good attempt, although it only scratches the surface. Seth Godin has much more to say (he's a well-known speaker as well). Yet, this is my favorite book of his because it works so well as a gift to anyone who cares about marketing and needs the big picture.

Conan Doyle for the Defense

Margalit Fox achieves a trifecta in this book about a man wrongfully accused of murder. She expertly weaves in the main narrative but also explains what made Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes books, so interesting and also how detective work changed during a period when science and technology were both evolving quickly.

In the Hurricane's Eye

I couldn't quite put down this richly detailed story of a naval conquest that factored in greatly to the Revolutionary War period. It's about how, in 1780, President George Washington tapped the French navy to help defeat the British. It reads more like an historical novel, and I can't imagine the painstaking research Nathaniel Philbrick must have conducted (likely pouring over ancient documents). It provides more than a recounting of a time period but lessons about ingenuity and overcoming obstacles.

Eternity is Now in Session

I always add at least one personal favorite to the mix. John Ortberg is a pastor who writes about spiritual topics, but he is also trained as a clinical psychologist. His insight about why we are addicted to things, and the deeper spiritual meaning about addiction, are profound and relevant to a wide audience. He's also a master storyteller and writes with a comic flare.

Let's Go (So We Can Get Back)

A quick read about the founding member of Wilco (who also co-started Uncle Tupelo), this memoir is richly detailed and brutally honest. Jeff Tweedy explains some of his songwriting process and finally divulges the reason his first band broke-up. More than anything, it's a look inside how the music business works from an astute observer.