I like to set audacious goals. It’s just part of who I am. I also love to read – it feels like every time I crack open a book (or click on the book icon in my Kindle) a window to a new world is opened. But I’ve always read haphazardly, and only when I could fit it in to my otherwise overstuffed life. So at the end of 2014 when I decided I would read a book a week in 2015 I was excited and cautiously optimistic about how it would go. Would I have the time? Would I get bored? Would I follow another butterfly to another flower and forget about reading entirely?
Long story short – I did it. And then some. Yesterday morning I finished my 76th book of 2015. It was surprisingly easy. And fun. It also left me wanting more. I’m already excited about all the incredible stories I get to read in 2016. I read fiction, non-fiction, business books, and fantasy. I read about pirates, mountains, India, and the future. I read what I felt like reading, and it was like water on my soul.
Below I’ve listed my ten favorite books, and five least favorite books from 2015. I hope you choose to enjoy some of them as well. Because something I’m really clear about after dedicating a year to reading is that everything we expose ourselves to is brain food. Everything. Feed yourselves well my friends!
Best books of 2015 (in no particular order)
An epic (and mostly true) adventure about a convict that escapes maximum security prison in Australia and flees to the streets of Bombay, India. The author writes in such a thoughtful and poetic way that a few times I stopped to admire the picture he was painting in my head; however, he doesn’t hit you over the head with “literariness” like Dickens might. I gave this to my mom for Christmas as it might be my single favorite read of the year.
A fascinating and poignant look at why some people live and others die when immersed in survival situations. The author has spent his entire life researching this topic (in the library and in the mountains) after his father survived a wartime plane crash. Really interesting read, particularly if you like to spend time outdoors.
Everybody has heard of this one, but I still had to put it on the list. Fun, snarky, and exciting, this well written book is so popular because it appeals to the adventurer and science nerd inside us all. This is a best seller and a box office hit for a reason. Just a great read.
Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession & the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship
The title says it all. A true story that has everything – danger, deep sea diving, adventure, treasure, suspense, and even pirates. What a fun book!
The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance
My affinity for this book is probably influenced by what I do for a living, but I found it extremely fascinating. During my book/speaking tour I found myself quoting this book (and Deep Survival) quite a bit. The author explores athletic success and why some people (and groups of people) are better at certain physical endeavors. Very well researched and thoughtful. If you are an athlete, an aspiring athlete, or anyone that works with athletes, I highly recommend this book.
Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success
One of the last books of the year and kind of thrown in on a whim, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. This is the story of Phil Jackson’s playing and coaching career, and recounts all eleven seasons that ended in a championship (the most of all time for an NBA coach or player). It’s a story of faith, philosophy, and leadership, and he talks candidly about what it was like to work with superstars like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant. As a sports fan and student of leadership, I found this book highly interesting.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this is considered the classic and definitive work about the Civil War. It’s told from the perspective of key combatants from both sides, and offers a moving and seemingly authentic account of the four bloodiest day’s in our nation’s history. Very good read.
Adrift: 76 Days Lost at Sea
Oh man did this book speak to all the angels and demons inside me. This is a true story about a man (the author) whose self-built boat capsized in the middle of the ocean after being hit by a whale, and his 76 harrowing days alone on a raft trying to stay alive. Philosophical, spiritual, beautiful, and terrifying, it’s no accident that this book spent nine months atop the New York Times Bestseller list. The author is humble, intelligent, and introspective (I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know him a bit) and these traits really come through in his writing. Excellent book.
Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think This book is pure rocket fuel. Co-written by the founder of the X Prize and an award winning journalist, Abundance takes a pragmatic and candid look at the terrible issues humanity is currently facing… and then punches you in the face with all the reasons the future is still bright! It outlines key issues like energy, clean water, and overpopulation, and then explains in great detail the science, passion, and people who are poised to overcome them. It’s hard to find an inspirational book that is also rooted in hard science, however Abundance delivers both… in abundance (oh, I’m good).
Simply a classic. And given how many other classics I read and disliked in 2015, Walden was a breath of fresh air – literally. Walden is a journal of sorts, written by Henry David Thoreau while living in a forest cabin near Walden Pond (Massachusetts). It was published in 1854 so there is the expected linguistic and stylistic eccentricities, however this is Thoreau at his best. If you are a lover of nature and/or literature, put this book at the top of your list.
It was exceedingly difficult to narrow my favorites down to 10, so here are a few more honorable mentions:
Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning
The Dharma Bums
Worst books of 2015 (in no particular order)
The Three Musketeers
It pains me to put this on the list because it’s a swashbuckling classic. Heck, my dad even had a dog named D’artagnan. However, I found it silly, shallow, and repetitive. Of course it’s not particularly fair to look at it through today’s lens (and I’m sure the translation from French didn’t help), but this book took me almost a month to get through. Ouch.
The Science of Getting Rich
What a waste of time. It felt like the author just threw something together quickly because he had a good title and thought he could make a buck. I’ve read about the same concepts in at least 20 other books, and all of those books were fresher and more interesting than this one.
I love Herman Hesse (in fact Siddhartha is one of my favorite books), but this book just didn’t speak to me. I found it cumbersome, and esoteric simply for the sake of being esoteric. Maybe my brain is too small to appreciate its literary chops, but I was listening to it while running through the woods in Sweden and I still wasn't able to find any magic in it.
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Good. God. The single most mind melting book I’ve ever read, multiplied by a googolplex. I should have stopped. Many times I should have just stopped. But I kept waiting for something to happen. Just an uninteresting story about a family over a century. That’s it. My guess is that it became a classic because critics were angry they got duped into reading it and wanted other people to share their pain.
On the Road
The first Jack Kerouac book I have ever read so I was expecting greatness. What I got was one note that might have been fresh in the 1950’s but felt stale in 2015. I even rolled my eyes a few times. Interestingly, I read Dharma Bums (another Kerouac book) a couple months later and loved it.