Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Best Books of 2013: Nonfiction

In addition to my favorite book of the year being included in the top nonfiction reads of 2013, here are other nonfiction books worth picking up:

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip & Dan Heath

The title basically sums up the book, which discusses all of the flaws in our decision-making processes. While this topic may sound dry, if you've read any other Heath brothers' books you'll know it's not. The Heath brothers weave engaging stories and very interesting studies on decision-making into their 4 step process to make better decisions in your own life.

This book was especially appropriate for my work with helping students make decisions about their futures. For my thoughts on this, read my posts How to Choose a College, Major, or Career Part I and Part II.

"Sometimes the hardest part of making a good decision is knowing there's one to be made. In life, we spend most of our days on autopilot, going through our usual routines."

The Defining Decade: Why your Twenties matter - and how to make the most of them now by Meg Jay

I came across this book after watching Meg Jay's Ted Talk, Why 30 is not the New 20. I highly recommend watching this 15 minute video for Jay's reasons about why the 20s shouldn't be considered a throwaway decade. This book dives deeper in this topic, explaining how waiting until your 30s to take life decisions seriously is holding many back from living the life that they want. Work, relationships, personality, and identity have the potential to be shaped more during your 20s than any other point in life.

Again, this book was a great read for my line of work. Although I don't necessarily agree with everything that Jay proposes, it's a very interesting look into what our culture says about twenty-somethings. It's a short read and one that I recommend if you're in your twenties or have a family member in their twenties.

"The one thing I have learned is that you can't think your way through life. The only way to figure out what to do is to do - something." 

"We know that, of any time in life, our twenties are our best chance for change."

It Starts with Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change your Life in Unexpected Ways by Dallas & Melissa Hartwig 

I read this quick book at the beach this year, when we were resting from John's illness. At this same time, I was feeling sick from extreme anemia (though I didn't know it at the time). This book was enlightening on how the food we put in our bodies affects us. Although I know this in principle, it was helpful to understand exactly how and why this happens. It was also encouraging that I wasn't crazy for having so many symptoms that I've had most of my life go away once I went gluten free.

Although I haven't followed the strict Whole30 eating plan that they recommend, I found the knowledge of how we digest food and why we need certain nutrients to be very interesting. There are also some recipes at the end. It'd be a perfect read for the new year if you want to start eating healthier.

"The food you eat either makes you more healthy or less healthy. Those are your options."

"Genetics loads the gun, but environment pulls the trigger."

Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks, & Build an Incredible Career by Jocelyn K. Glei  

This less than $5 Kindle book is written by contributors to 99U, an excellent blog that I daily read articles about "insights on making ideas happen." Maximize Your Potential is about how to live into your full potential. It is written in a series of short essays on topics such as creating opportunities, building expertise, cultivating relationships, and taking risks. Although I haven't finished reading it yet, it's a great book (again) for my line of work with coaching. Yet I recommend it to anyone wanting to reawaken their sense of purpose in their work or life. With short essays, it's an easy book to pick up and read throughout the day or week.

Also, Cal Newport, an author of a nonfiction book from last year's BeEmbraced book guide, writes one of the first essays in Maximize Your Potential.

"Your ability to realize your potential will depend upon your willingness to hone your skills, to take bold risks, and to put your ego on the line in pursuit of something greater."

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

This memoir recounts Cheryl Strayed's broken life and her bold decision to hike over 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail... despite no training or backpacking experience. The organized and prepared side of me was on edge most the book as she hiked in the wilderness alone and without adequate food, water, or supplies. Her journey will keep you wanting to read more, though parts of her life and decisions are gut-wrenching. 

The Pacific Crest Trail goes from the Mojave Desert through California, Oregon, and Washington State, and Strayed's depictions of the scenery make you almost want to hike it too... aside from the whole living in the wilderness for months part. What captivated me about her story was the healing power of an adventurous journey.

"It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. IT seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way."

Although I started reading this book awhile ago, I am not quite finished. However, that is not because it isn't a good read. Instead it's about 900 pages long, and I've been reading other books at the same time. 

This book makes my top nonfiction reads of the year because it's a very well-written biography on Lincoln's life. What amazes me the most is Lincoln's patience. Time and again there is a crisis or he's being misrepresented by others, and yet he doesn't act rashly. His calm demeanor in decision-making (see a theme here in the nonfiction picks?) makes him a "political genius." It's also fascinating to read about the politics of the time as well as the politicians' - and their wives' - personalities. Team of Rivals is as much about Lincoln as it is about his political rivals, which later became a part of his cabinet. It's worth the time investment, especially if you enjoy history.

"...The Chicago Tribune asked Lincoln why he has chosen a cabinet comprised of enemies and opponents... Lincoln's answer was simple, straightforward, and shrewd, 'We needed the strongest men of the party in the Cabinet. We needed to hold our own people together. I had looked the party over and concluded that these were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services.' ...But in the end it was the prairie lawyer from Springfield who would emerge as the strongest of them all."


  1. Added Maximize your potential & It starts with food to my list! I've had Team of Rivals sitting on a shelf at home for far too long; maybe its the year to dig in :)

    1. Thanks for checking out my blog, Becca! All good books to add to your 2014 reading list :) Enjoy!!

  2. I actually just put "It Starts with Food" on hold at my local library. "Team of Rivals" has been on my to-read list foooreeever, and I just got Doris Kearns Goodwin's latest book about Roosevelt, Taft and the golden age of journalism for Christmas.

    1. I wasn't aware of Goodwin's new book but just read the reviews and added it to my Amazon Wishlist!

  3. The biography about Lincoln sounds very interesting.

  4. I LOVE your first 3. I abandoned Wild on page 30-something (but I keep hearing it gets better once she gets on the trail, so I might reconsider at some point). And one of my 2014 goals is to read something by Doris Kearns Goodwin! I keep meaning to....

    1. Wild does take a little while to get into, and I think I was partly fascinated by it because I have a friend hiking the AT this year. Goodwin is definitely worth reading though!