Searching for the best books of 2018 (or any given year, for that matter) is a bit of a crap shoot. Opinions on books, as with any other art form, are highly subjective.
The experience you get from reading 70,000 words on why “business guru X” is 100x times more successful than you is likely going to be vastly different from my own. (mainly because I think that subcategory of nonfiction books is terrible)
And then, of course, you get people like me. People who write an entire blog post about their favorite nonfiction books of 2018… that weren’t actually published in 2018.
I know, I’m sorry. If you’re looking for nonfiction books that were actually published in 2018, you may as well hit that back button now.
This is why I carefully placed the word discovered in my headline. While I most definitely found and read these books in 2018, they weren’t all published this year.
If you’re willing to move past that, there’s a very good chance that you’ll discover some nonfiction books here that you have yet to read. And I think you’ll love them.
These are the 10 best nonfiction books I read in 2018. (ranked in no particular order)
A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape From North Koreav- Masaji Ishikawa
North Korea is the most mysterious nation on the planet. The North Korean government works overtime to ensure that no information gets in or out of the country.
As a result, knowing what day-to-day life is for the average North Korean is next to impossible. Sure, we have rumors, some videos, and a handful of eyewitness accounts, but they sorely lack in depth and detail.
A River in Darkness is the unbelievable firsthand account of a Japanese man who escaped North Korea after 30 years of living in starvation, torture and darkness. It is a deeply sad and troubling memoir of a man looking back on a life of misery and pain. It’s very powerful stuff.
Fair warning: If you find detailed stories of human suffering difficult to read, this book will be challenging for you. But I encourage you to give it a try nonetheless.
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Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain
What’s the difference between an introverted person and one who is extroverted? A lot more than you think.
Susan Cain‘s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is an intriguing look at the Western world’s obsession with extroversion. How many times have you been told you need to be “more outgoing” or “less antisocial”? How many times did these questions make you feel like there’s something wrong with you?
Modern Western culture rewards brash, aggressive and borderline offensive speech and conduct. People who “put themselves out there” are rewarded with money, fame, careers and success. And this aspect of our society has only become even more prominent with the rise of social media.
But, is that where all of the the world’s creators and innovators come from?
Susan investigates the crucial yet subtle role introverts play in modern society. Introversion is finally getting its time in the spotlight.
I particularly enjoyed her comparison of Western and Eastern cultures. The Japanese are a fascinating people.
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Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig
Depression has a powerful grip on us. It affects people of all races and backgrounds in a wide variety of ways. (but is especially hard on women and girls, as it is now the leading cause of death in women worldwide[!])
All too often, we get caught up in trying to figure out why someone is feeling depressed. The reality is, there usually isn’t a reason for it. It’s a disease. And a pervasive one at that. The best we can do is try to treat and manage it.
In Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig tells his story of dealing with major depression. This isn’t a book that details “X ways to overcome depression and feel happier TODAY“. This is a man simply sharing his personal struggle with the disease, with the hopes that others out there might find some of it helpful.
He masterfully uses illustrations to paint a picture of what’s happening inside in his mind. This is as close as you can get to understanding depression without personally experiencing it.
It is an especially important read for anyone who has a loved one who struggles with major depression. I know it helped me to better understand this awful disease.
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The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
Steven Pressfield is a pretty weird dude. I definitely don’t agree with some of the ideas he puts forward in this book. In particular, he gets into some weird metaphysical stuff that is just not my cup of tea.
But I did enjoy Steven Pressfield‘s style of writing, and how he portrayed procrastination and creative “resistance” as an embodied character. One that is constantly at odds with our life’s passions and desires, and a strong force to be reckoned with.
The War of Art is a unique take on the old “Defeat Procrastination and Get Crap Done” tripe. And it’s a quick read too.
If you’re looking for some creative inspiration, or just trying to motivate yourself to get off your butt and make something, give this one a read ASAP.
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Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage – Alfred Lansing
I absolutely devoured this book. I’m pretty certain I set a new personal record, in fact.
Endurance is the story of the very real, truly unbelievable voyage of Ernest Shackleton and his crew. They set sail for Antarctica in 1914, just as the entire world was igniting into war, with the hopes of becoming the first humans to cross the entire continent on foot.
But before they even set foot on land, their ship is slowly and methodically attacked by massive ice floes. After a long, hard-fought battle, it is destroyed and dragged to the dark depths of the sea.
What follows is a harrowing adventure that reminds you we are all capable of so much more than we aspire to. And the author, Alfred Lansing, does a great job of keeping the narrative tension high.
I honestly don’t know how they haven’t made a movie about this story yet. Simply inspiring.
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Creativity Inc – Ed Catmull
I adore Pixar. Well, most of their stuff anyway. Many of their recent projects have failed to meet the incredibly high standards they’ve set for themselves.
My childhood was filled with the stories, movies, toys and video games that came from the minds of this brilliant film studio. And what made these movies even more incredible is that I actually appreciated them more as I grew older.
There aren’t many creators that can claim their work is enjoyed by people of all races, genders and backgrounds. I think Pixar can boldly lay claim to this.
Creativity Inc is written by Ed Catmull, one of the co-founders of Pixar. The book is packed full of useful and actionable advice on how to foster a creative work environment and bring out the true potential in people.
It’s also got some great inside stories that I’ve always had questions about. I highly recommend this one if you’re interested in general creativity and building company cultures.
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Story Driven – Bernadette Jiwa
Starting a new business? Read this book first.
Storytelling is THE #1 most valuable skill in the world. No, I’m not kidding. If you can tell a great story, you can sell anything. And if you can sell anything, you can build any business you can dream of.
In Story Driven, you will learn how to turn even the most boring corporate jargon into a compelling story that your customers will buy into.
Bernadette Jiwa’s book is chock full of case studies, examples and actionable insights into building a brand people will be drawn to.
Skip the Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing and read more books like this instead.
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Shoe Dog – Phil Knight
I can’t say enough good things about this book.
If you’re an entrepreneur in any sense of the word, go read this right now. Every struggle, frustration, roadblock, failure, gut-punch and stumble will instantly be given context. This book will empower you to persevere.
Phil Knight is the founder and creator of Nike, a company every human being on earth knows of. Shoe Dog is the story of how he built that company.
Globe-trotting, international conflict, sabotage, invention, creation, FBI investigations, corrupt politicians, immense struggle and success… This book has all of that and more.
I got so many valuable takeaways from this. 10/10 would read again.
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How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big – Scott Adams
People have a funny way of looking at failure. But can failure have positive affects on you, your career and your future?
In recent years, there has been a near obsessive attempt to redefine the meaning of failure. But Scott Adams was failing way before it was cool.
In How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, Scott Adams, the creator of the massively popular Dilbert comic strip, shares his life story and details the (literally) dozens of ways he’s failed on his way to becoming a famous cartoonist.
I don’t agree with many of Scott’s world views. But I do love his writing style. And his ability to tell stories is second to none. His unique combination of upbeat humor, dark cynicism and grounded realism is right up my alley.
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Deep Work – Cal Newport
Get off of Netflix and go make something for a change.
This is a ridiculous over-simplification of the argument Cal makes in his book, but you get the idea.
Cal Newport is a computer science professor at Georgetown University, and the author of multiple books focused on productivity and digital minimalism. (I also read So Good They Can’t Ignore You, but wasn’t as enthralled with it)
Deep Work will show you the importance of accomplishing deep and meaningful work on a regular basis. More than that, it will show you exactly how to do it. Actually acting on that information is entirely up to you.
While I believe Cal gets a little OCD in certain parts, (such as “scheduling every single minute of your day” and his strange obsession with email) the book is still full of useful tips and case studies to inspire your new, productive self.
I especially enjoyed his patient and thorough takedown of social media. (the bane of modern society)
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Not quite what you’re looking for?
I have an ongoing database of my favorite books that I’m constantly adding to. If you don’t find at least one new good read from my list, I invite you to punch me in the face via email: 👊 [email protected]