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Peak Performance Newsletter Top Books of 2017

November 29, 2017


An integral part of our writing process is exploring and connecting ideas from seemingly disparate domains. This requires reading broadly. Collectively, we've read over 100 non-fiction books this year. (And, we published one!) We're regularly asked about our favorites, the books that have most influenced our thinking. The following lists, ordered alphabetically, represent just that. Note that not all of these books were first released in 2017 (some are actually decades old), but we first read them in 2017.

Brad's list focuses on "life performance" and Steve's on "athletic/coaching performance," though these are somewhat false dichotomies and anyone who knows us knows we think alike! Books we both loved only appear once, but are in 
bolded green font.

We encourage you to dive into these books yourself, and to consider giving those you love one of the best holiday gifts there is: the chance to explore new ideas and acquire knowledge.


Brad's Favorite Books of 2017


Becoming Wise, Krista Tippett.
A beautiful book that reminds us that listening is not the same thing as waiting to talk and that wisdom — which “leavens intelligence, enables consciousness, and advances evolution itself” — is gained through our lived experience with words, flesh, love, faith, and hope. This book made me realize that if we slow down and show-up to life fully present and without judgment, beauty and awe is all around us.


The Bright Hour, Nina Riggs. 
Courageous and heartfelt, about living and dying with cancer. Riggs does her best to help us — her readers — imagine the unimaginable. Though reading about death is never comfortable, I believe there is no better way to help you zero-in on what you want out of life. Riggs: “Living with a terminal disease is like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss. But living without a terminal disease is also like walking over an insanely scary abyss, only with some fog or cloud cover obscuring the depths a little more.” Riggs passed away before this book was published, but she’ll live on through her profound words.


The Carpenter, Jon Gordon.
I had to debate whether or not to include this book on the list; not because it isn’t great, but because it falls somewhere in between fiction and non-fiction. Gordon chronicles a carpenter who is intent on doing good, quality work. In the process, he shows readers how to do the same. Though this is technically a fable, the principles that emerge from it are based upon solid evidence—and the story itself is rooted in truth. It’s a quick read—took me only two sittings—and yet it contains years’ worth of wisdom.


Crossing the Unknown Sea, David Whyte.
We’re often told to separate “work” from “life” (the genesis of false paradigms like “work-life balance”). Whyte, however, argues that this is not possible, and even it were, it wouldn’t be a wise move. Whyte doesn’t view work as something distinct from life but rather he sees it for what it is: a central component of life. He explores what makes for good work (and thus for good life) and explains that whenever we are involved in “doing” work, we are equally involved in “becoming” who we are.


Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari.
Harari’s first book, Sapiens, was a detailed account of our species’ past. His latest looks into the future, and offers a few potential narratives of what lies ahead for us humans. Will we clash with technology, live in harmony with it, or become one with it? Harari has said that his books aren’t so much meant to be read literally but rather to make us think. This book does not disappoint.


How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer, Sarah Bakewell.
Part biography, part applied philosophy, this book explores the life of French Renaissance philosopher Michel de Montaigne, and his thoughts on how we all ought to live ours. Diverse topics are covered from dealing with death, to animal consciousness (including how we relate to our pets), to the best ways to approach learning, to politics and power. Bakewell is a masterful writer; so consider this a great look at Montaigne’s famous “essays” without having to sludge through his dense and at times disorganized prose. (Though, if you’re really interested, you should go to the primary source here).


Irresistible, Adam Alter.
If you have a hard time putting down your phone or signing off from the internet, you’re not alone. Alter traces the rise of addictive technologies, discusses their downsides (hint: virtual reality and social networks take our attention away from lived-reality and real-life networks), and offers concrete practices that can help us have more harmonious relationships with our devices. A must read for anyone — which means just about everyone — who relies on 21st century tech. It’s not that these devices are inherently bad, but using them mindlessly is.


Option B, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. 
Contrary to what we might think, resilience isn’t only about pushing through, toughing it out, or finding meaning in loss. It’s also about cultivating joy. More than anything else, this book taught me that one need not give themselves permission to experience unadulterated joy. Rather, it is those very experiences that give us strength when we need it most. Part personal story (Sandberg’s tragic loss of her husband) and part science (Grant’s research), this book is sure to leave you thinking differently about resilience.

Perennial Seller, Ryan Holiday. 
If you make (or want to make) creative work, this book is a must-read. Holiday draws upon his own experience and those of so many others to outline the steps necessary to produce— and market — work that lasts. He makes clear there are no shortcuts; you’ve got to put in the effort and cultivate the right relationships. But even then, that’s often not enough. You’ve also got to be strategic — and that’s what this book offers: a good strategic framework.


Stranger in the Woods, Michael Finkel.

An utterly captivating story of Christopher Knight, otherwise known as the North Pond hermit. Knight disappeared into the woods of Maine in 1986 and stayed there for over 27 years, living off the land and provisions stolen from neighbors nearby. Upon his arrest (he did not come out of the woods voluntarily), he spoke with only one journalist: Finkel. And Finkel, at least for us readers, was a good choice. He put together a page-turner that is on its face about Knight’s stranger than fiction story but equally about human nature, solitude, what it means to be happy, and the many paradoxes in what we consider “normal” versus “abnormal” ways of living. I read this book in one sitting on a flight from San Francisco to Detroit. I literally couldn’t put it down.


To Have or To Be, Erich Fromm.

Though I just discovered this book in 2017, it’s a classic study of what it means to be a fully-thriving human being. Interestingly, it’s not always just about pushing for more or needing to accomplish increasingly challenging objectives. It is also about being content with what you have while building on it thoughtfully; it’s about knowing who you are and what you love, and engaging in activities that allow you to express that. I especially love Fromm’s discussion of productive activity, or the “joy we experience in the process of growing nearer to the goal of becoming ourselves…the caring, responsibility, respect, and knowledge that are a syndrome of attitudes to be found in the person who develops his own powers productively, who only wants to have what he has worked for, who has given up narcissistic dreams of omniscience and omnipotence, who has acquired humility based on inner-strength only genuine productive activity can give.”


Steve's Favorite Books of 2017


Captain Class: The Hidden Force Creating the World's Greatest Teams, Sam Walker.
In this book, Sam Walker set out to see what made all-time great sports teams tick. He looked at practically every team sport across the globe and painstakingly whittled them down into a list of the best of the best. From here, Walker began a deep dive to see what separated these dynasties from the rest of the field of very-good teams. Systemically eliminating many of the assumed difference makers, Walker lands on the fact that all of these teams had captains that fit a certain mold. Quite simply, this book will destroy your assumptions on many levels; from what makes teams successful to what makes a great captain. In particular, Walker’s dismantling of the extroverted motivating captain is fascinating and worth the read. Regardless of if you coach or if you are in the business world, this is a book on leadership that must be read.

Conscious Coaching: The Art and Science of Building Buy-In, Brett Bartholomew.
Strength Coach Brett Bartholomew fills a much-needed gap in the coaching literature. While we tend to obsess over the training and details around conditioning, Bartholomew nails the most important part of coaching, creating buy-in. In this easy to read book, he breaks down the different archetypes of individuals we will meet on our coaching journey, and then gives us actionable ways to handle and connect with each type. Quite simply, if you work with people, you need to read this book.

Endure, Alex Hutchinson.
Although not released until February of 2018,  I couldn’t help but put Alex Hutchinson’s new book on the list. I was fortunate enough to read an advanced copy and it is a magnificent book. Hutchinson breaks down everything that we know about fatigue. In an immensely readable, but deeply scientific, dive, Hutchinson unravels the mystery of how fatigue occurs in sport. This is a must read for any coach of any sport.

Fast Track Triathlete,
Matt Dixon.
Most training philosophies simply take what the best of the best do and water it down for each level. Matt's book flips the script and looks at how to get the best performance, while not sacrificing work and life. Matt  does a great job of whittling down the fat and looking at what matters the most, where do we get the most bang for our buck.

Game Changer,
Fergus Connolly and Phil White.

When I first picked up this tome of a book, the first thing I noticed was how vast the knowledge covered was. This isn’t your traditional coaching book, but one that is as at ease in discussing philosophy or military tactics, as it is in talking about scoring goals in soccer. While written with team sports in mind, this gem of a book will have you picking nuggets of valuable (and usable) information, regardless of whom it is that you coach. I’d go a step further and say that even if you don’t coach in sports, you’ll find this book incredibly informative.

Great Thinkers,
The School of Life.

For the busy individuals, consider this a primer on thinking. As the title suggests, this book takes us through some of history's greatest thinkers, from philosophers to architects to artists. For each individual, you get a cl=concise outline of their impact on the world. Going beyond a simple summary, it’s a primer on why their typical contribution to society is important and what we, as modern readers, should take away from it.

How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, 
Lisa Feldman Barrett.
A longer scientific read on the fascinating world of emotions. Feldman-Barrett presents a new theory on the role of emotions, where they come from, and what their role is. From a coaching standpoint, I found this book illuminating and paradigm changing. It helped me understand anxiety in a better light, and also how fatigue, and the associated emotional response develops. After reading this text, you'll be sure to have new ideas on how to deal with the tricky human component of coaching.

The Neo Generalist,
Richard Martin and Kenneth Mikkelson.
Avid reader and coach extraordinaire Vern Gambetta introduced me to this text, and I’m sure glad he did. We are all familiar with the specialist vs. generalist dichotomy. Are we experts at one particular thing, or do we know a little about a lot of things? The authors break apart this dichotomy, and make the case for what they call the Neo Generalist.

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, Matthew Crawford.
My first departure from athletics coaching books is a short read by modern-day philosopher Matthew Crawford. In this work, Crawford makes the case that our value should be in the work itself and that doing actual physical labor has more to teach us than we appreciate. It’s a philosophical treatise on why we need to reconnect with the actual world, get our hands a bit dirty, and do some physical labor.

Status Anxiety,
Alain de Botton.

How do you define success? A simple question that we often assume is intuitive; by work done, money made, races won, or some other simple metric. Yet, on a deeper dive, de Botton demonstrates how the modern world has created a world where we have confused status with “success.” De Botton takes us through the problems with the modern malady that is status anxiety and how to navigate this world. For coaches, the lessons on how to frame success, how to internalize it, and how to deal with it, are immensely valuable.

Success: In Sport and Life, Percy Cerutty.
The title says it all, in this forgotten classic, legendary running coach Percy Cerutty outlines the ingredients for success. Before it became trendy to do so, Cerutty applied the teaching of Stoicism to life and running, leaving us with lessons about toughness, grit, mindsets, and more decades before researchers caught on. Cerutty rightly takes the X’s and O’s of coaching away from the center of the coaching model, and places the athlete, as a person, there. He believed that if you changed the person, the performance would follow.



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