When I was in 9th grade and starting to focus in on journalism as a career, I interviewed a neighbor for a school project. He was a reporter for the Washington Post, and he’d written a few books. I asked him for career advice, and I remember his advice well:
Read a lot, and write a lot.
That’s stuck with me over the years. I try to write a lot — here on the blog, especially — even when the core of my job doesn’t involve writing. And I’m always pushing myself to read more. (It helps that I live in a city with an amazing library system!)
I read for pleasure, but I also like to read books about the way people work. And these tend to fall into two categories: Books that’ll make you think about work, and books that’ll show you how others work. These are a couple of my recent favorites from both:
Books That’ll Make You Think About Work
Do The Work by Steven Pressfield
Anything You Want by Derek Chivers
These are both remarkable little (and I mean little — like 100 pages each) manifestos about doing your best work. I read them both in late 2011 — and it’s not a coincidence that some of the best work from Stry.us happened in the months after.
The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg
This book made me totally rethink my day-to-day habits and the stuff I need to do in order to do great work.
Design is a Job by Mike Monteiro
This is technically about working as a designer — but it’s really about how to choose the right people to work with and how to ask for what you want. (Also: It features chapters like “Fuck You, Pay Me.” This book is nothing if not very direct.)
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
This is all about startups — how to build them, how to grow them, and how to survive them. (Especially that last part.)
Books That’ll Show You How Others Work
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
Still maybe the single best book about what it’s like for a smart, dedicated team to take on a huge mission and… then fail over and over again. (When work goes wrong, I love thinking about Wolfe’s famous line: “Our rockets always blow up!”)
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
An inspiring book about one man trying to take on impossible work in a foreign land — and somehow finding success.
Sous Chef by Michael Gibney
A fascinating look into a day in the life of a chef, going minute-by-minute into all the little routines that allow a kitchen to do the work it needs to do.
A Season On The Brink by John Feinstein
Hey, I had to sneak a sports book in here! I love this behind-the-scenes look at a single season for Indiana University’s men’s basketball team, and the way a team changes in the face of tough leadership.
Which Lie Did I Tell? by William Goldman
How does a movie get written and made? Goldman goes deep (sometimes a little too much) into the process.
Sam Walton: Made In America by Sam Walton
The Everything Store by Brad Stone
I’m Feeling Lucky by Douglas Edwards
One’s about Wal-Mart. One’s about Amazon. One’s about Google. But all three dive deep into the beginnings of what would become three enormous brands. I loved reading about the early days of all three companies, and the decisions that helped shape their futures.