Four must-read books

I usually wait until December to share which books I’ve read during the year and which ones I recommend.

But I recently read four terrific books that you might enjoy reading during this “stay-inside” season.

Range – Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein 

I’ve always enjoyed Thomas Huxley’s suggestion: “Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.” In other words, be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of one. This book underscores that strategy.   

Epstein makes a compelling case for some counter-intuitive thoughts such as: Actively cultivate inefficiency. Failing a test is the best way to learn. Frequent quitters end up with the most fulfilling careers. The most impactful inventors cross domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area. People who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.

Forbes magazine calls it “The most important business—and parenting— book of the year.” My entire family is reading this book and it’s helping us craft a strategy for raising my grandson, Benjamin.

Order Range from Amazon here. 

The Precipice – Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity by Toby Ord 

Ord offers an interesting reassessment of human history, the future we are failing to protect, and the steps we must take to ensure that our generation is not the last. He talks about natural risks that could have catastrophic effects on humanity (asteroids or comets hitting the earth, super volcanic eruptions, stellar explosions) and anthropogenic risks (caused by humans) such as nuclear weapons, climate change, environmental damage, unaligned artificial intelligence, and pandemics. 

His writing is accessible and engaging. The week I read this book, I could hardly wait to re-engage with it every day.

Order The Precipice from Amazon here.

Transcend – The New Science of Self-Actualization by Scott Kaufman 

On the dedication page, Kaufman writes: “This book is dedicated to Abraham Harold Maslow, a dear friend I’ve never met.”

Maslow (died 1970) was an American psychologist best known for his theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. Most people are familiar with the famous pyramid that shows the hierarchy of needs he espoused. He stressed the importance of focusing on the positive qualities in people, as opposed to treating them as a “bag of symptoms”.

Kaufman’s book is both a biography of Maslow and an update on Maslow’s theories based on recent research. He shares significant thoughts about the need for social connections, healthy self-esteem, growth, love, and purpose.

Order Transcend from Amazon here.

Blueprint – How DNA Makes Us Who We Are – by Robert Plomin 

The DNA of all human beings are 99.9 percent the same. But in that 0.1 percent there are are more than three million differences between your genome and everyone else’s. 

Plomin, a behavioral geneticist, focuses on the 0.1 percent that makes us who we are as individuals. A century of genetic research shows that DNA differences inherited from our parents are the consistent lifelong sources of our psychological individuality—the blueprint that makes us who we are. He reports that genetics explains more about the psychological differences among people than all other factors combined. Nature, not nurture, is what makes us who we are.

This book is not an easy read—there’s lots of math and science. But it’s worth the effort to grapple with the basic concepts he proffers and I found them beneficial.  

Order Blueprint from Amazon here.


Sam Harris says, “We read for the joy and benefit of thinking another person’s thoughts.” These four books represent decades of serious thought and research by four intelligent men. It is a joy to read their thoughts and benefit from them. If you’re not attracted to the topics of these four books, find a book that does appeal to you and read it. We’ll all be better for it.

10 Replies to “Four must-read books”

  1. Any recommendations related to God for must read books ? Some suggestions:

    The Bible (especially the Gospels)

    Billy Graham’s “The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life”

    Brian Zahnd’s “Unconditional: the call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness”

    “Amish Grace” (3 authors)

    “Love One Another” by Don McMinn

    “Discipleship Quick References” free summaries of two books I wrote, download at www. I heart I am .org

  2. Just wondered how you decided on which books to read? Were they recommended to you? Without wanting to be “politically correct”, there are no female authors.

    1. Hi Angela, thanks for reaching out. I primarily find the books I read in other books I read. A good author recommends another good author. Also, the New York Times has a weekly book section in their Sunday edition. No intent in leaving out female authors, I just follow the trail.

    2. Thanks for your reply about the lack of female authors. I took a lesson from one of your previous articles about unconscious bias and interviewed someone I might have rejected. I got a pleasant surprise. Sometimes we have to go against the flow or received wisdom so we remain open to fresh experiences.

      1. Angela, thanks for your comments. We all tend to spend time and conversation with members of our “tribe,” so we seldom hear other alternatives or opposing views. That’s easily corrected (reach out to those who are different than us), but I (we) seldom do it.

  3. Regarding the book “Range” I liked the suggestion by Thomas Huxley. I came across a quote attributed to Louis Brandeis (justice on the Supreme Court) “More erroneous conclusions are due to lack of information than to errors of judgment.”
    How about a funny. The Sunday School teacher was describing how Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. Little Johnny was much interested. “My mother looked back once, while she was driving,” he explained, “and-and-and- she turned into a telephone pole!”

    1. Jim, thanks for taking the time to write. I liked the Brandeis quote (you might see that in a future post) and the joke. Kids say the darnedest things. Take care.

  4. Four must-read books;
    Range, The Precipice, Transcend, and Blueprint? What made you chose these four as “must read books”? Since receiving your e-mail lists of the books you’ve read each year, I’ve been going through your list and selecting from it books to read and several are much better than these four! In my opinion. Live Not By Lies is one of them.

    1. Stanley, thanks for taking the time to write. Those four books that I mentioned did mean a lot to me. I probably need to rethink using the term “must-read” because we all have diverse opinions about which books are better than others. In the future I’ll say “I enjoyed reading these books.” Take care, Don

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *