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My top 3 non-fiction books of 2013

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The standard for selection for this list is simple: how much time have I spent thinking about, talking about, and recommending a particular book? These are my top three on that list for 2013, and so I share them with you. I am not including any sword-related books, none of the titles are in directly related to martial arts at all. Not because there weren’t any good ones, just that none of the ones I read last year for the first time changed my thinking the way these did. (See here for a list of seven great martial arts books, and here for five essential non martial arts books every martial artist should read.)

Disclaimer: I don't get paid a thing for any sales of these books, only for my own. So these recommendations are entirely without agenda.

Quiet, by Susan Cain

This is one of the few books I have read in the last ten years that taught me something I didn’t know about myself. Turns out, I’m an introvert. Which means I find too much stimulation exhausting, and have to recharge with quiet time alone. Reading this book, all sorts of things about how I organise my time, especially in class or when travelling for seminars, came into focus and made sense. I love socialising: but it is a net drain on my energy, and so must be compensated for. Teaching, especially new (to me) students, is especially tiring, and so I need to schedule extra down-time afterwards.

This book is a survival guide for introverts, and an explanation for all you extroverts out there to help you understand the introverts in your life. It’s not that we don’t like you, we just need a rest every now and then!

Debt: the first 5000 years, by David Graeber

This book is simply an essential read for anyone who wants to understand where our current economic system came from, and how debt has shaped our culture. We cannot do without debt: from our first breath we incur debts of one sort or another. Right out of the gate, David Graeber, one of the founders of Occupy Wall Street, demolishes what in hindsight is the obviously wrong idea that in early human cultures we bartered for everything. Not true: we bartered with people we didn’t know, and simply kept a record of who owed what to whom within the tribe.

This astonishing book covers the idea of debt from anthropology to modern economics, and will change the way you think about human relations altogether. It is  way too big to summarise meaningfully here, so here is a proper review, in the FT Magazine.

Bit Literacy, by Mark Hurst

I met the author of this book at my sister’s wedding in August, and as he had a book coming out a few months later (Customers Included), I promised to buy it. I liked it enough to immediately look up his other works, and found this. I got the hardback, but you can download the Kindle for free.

I’m not hugely interested in any technology invented after about 1800, but for better or worse am obliged to use a computer, and interact with email and other modern “conveniences”. This book is simply a survival guide to not drowning in all the crap. Following this guide, I a) completed stuff I was supposed to have got done up to 6 months before but hadn’t; b) got my email inbox down from about 7000 messages to 0 (that’s not a typo); and c) created a workflow that makes me much more productive with much less effort.

I truly can’t be bothered with “productivity” products. Mostly, they just add shit to the overflowing todo list in my head. And a human being should not be primarily valued by anyone, least of all themselves, by their “productivity”. We are not dairy cattle. But coupled with Mark’s amazingly useful GoodToDo todo list app, this book has, at virtually no cost, streamlined my working life enormously.

As with any book that relates to modern technology, it is already out of date in some of its specifics (at least one of his recommended software solutions is no longer available). But the method this book explains is not tied to any specific software. This is the survival guide to the internet age. And, you can read it for free!

If you like the books I recommend, you might also like the books I write, so feel free to buy those too!


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