A few months ago I recommended five of my favourite books. It was one of my most popular articles, with many emailing to say how helpful they found it. Ergo, I thought it worth recommending a few more. One I’ve read since that post was written, one I’d read many years ago, and another I’ve been revisiting of late.
I’ve given a brief summary of each book to whet your appetite, and also given a short suggestion of who each book may be relevant to. They are all good though, so please do pick up a copy of any/all!
1. The Courage to be Disliked
by Ichiro Kishimi (Author), Fumitake Koga
A musician I’m aware of recommended this book in a talk about his struggles with mental health. It’s an excellent book. Written in the form of a dialogue between a student and a philosopher, it explores the psychology of Alfred Adler. Alder was a contemporary with Freud who took issue with Freud’s approach of laying people’s behaviour wholly at the feet of past experiences, labelled ‘traumas’. Adler felt that this theory that traumas were primarily responsible for how people turned out in their adulthood didn’t hold water, when it was apparent that different people who had similar upbringings or earlier “traumas” could end up living wholly different lives. There must have been something more to all of this than just past experiences being responsible for people’s final behaviours. This is what led Adler to make a split from Freud and his group.
Instead, Adler focused on the idea that past experiences being labelled as trauma/definitive experiences was down to each individual, and the meaning each person assigned to each experience. Those who wanted to wallow in past hardships and construe present hardships as extensions thereof, would do so, but those who wanted to grow and develop would do so in spite of difficult past circumstances. It was ultimately down to the individual to strive towards a constructive goal, rather than find excuses that made them exempt from blame. This in turn leads to Adler’s core philosophy that “all problems are interpersonal relationship problems“.
As this is written in the form of a dialogue, very strong opposing views and very difficult hypotheticals are posed for/against, which makes for a robust exploration of this topic.
Who is this for?
If you’re someone that is often pre-occupied with what others think of them (I know I fall victim to this all too often), or someone who finds themselves justifying present problems as beyond your control and down to someone else/past grievances, I would strongly recommend picking up a copy of this book. I can’t guarantee it will solve any such problems, but I’m confident it can help you cast them in a new light.
2. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
by Stephen Dubner and Stephen Levitt
This was a book I read many years ago, and it was the first book to introduce me to the idea of economics not being about the study of money, but the study of incentives. In essence, what are the ethereal forces that makes individuals take particular actions over other actions.
As an example, in one of the opening chapters, they talk about drunk driving. If the punishment for being caught drunk driving was roadside execution of the drunk driver by the police, you would see a dramatic reduction in the number of drunk drivers. Excessive as the punishment may be, when the punishment is money or points on a license, people are willing to take the risk. The cost is not sufficient to dissuade many from that behaviour.
We’ve seen the same with lower cost lockdown penalties. People are willing to run the risk of being issued with a fine, because they are willing to pay that amount of money to socialise. But if there was the promise that you’d be hauled out of your car and shot at the side of the road for being drunk, you’d see very different behaviour from drivers. The authors make it clear they are not advocating for this, but merely illustrating the otherwise invisible concept of incentives.
The whole book explores some very complex scenarios through this lens of incentives and self-interest driving individual behaviour, and therefore how this emerges in society. There are some absolutely fascinating stories in there, including how drug dealers have a lot in common with McDonalds, and how Thanksgiving is the most popular day of the year in the US for visiting brothels.
Who is this for?
If you find human behaviour fascinating, and how it’s influenced by external factors, even seemingly unconnected ones, this is an excellent book. You’ll start seeing situations, people’s behaviour, even pricing structures of companies in a wholly different light.
3. Stillness is the Key
by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday was mentioned a few times in my last article on book recommendations. This book is a combination of history, philosophy and meditation. Each chapter is readable in isolation, and each presents a philosophical life lesson rooted in Stoicism, narrated through a story drawn from famous figures throughout history.
An early chapter talks about JFK and how he handled the Cuban missile crisis. Later chapters talk about Tiger Woods and how his life broke apart through consistently poor choices and indulgence in a weak character.
Each of these stories draws an important life lesson for many things. I find myself rarely able to read through more than one or two chapters at a time without finding myself poring over how I need to work through some of these principles in my own life, behaviour, and mental habits.
Who is this for?
If you are always looking to better yourself, especially through cross-examination of oneself, this is a great book. If I go one step further, I’d say if you are someone who finds themselves lying awake at night trying to get yourself to sleep, but the negative thoughts of the day keep rousing you awake, this is an excellent book for discovering helpful mental practices to marshal your thoughts and curate a better headspace.