The Best Books & Podcasts I Came Across In 2018

This is a quick (or not so quick) recap on some of the best reading and listening I’ve done in 2018. I started a newsletter at the beginning of the year to help keep me accountable to sharing more of the things I'm learning about. It's become a passion project, one that I've loved keeping up with.

If you aren’t already signed up and want to be, click this link here. Either way, I’m grateful for you taking the time to check this list out. I look forward to continuing to connect over awesome books and podcasts in 2019. Until then, cheers.

Here are the best books and podcasts I’ve read or added to my subs this year: 

Books

Becoming by Michelle Obama

I cannot stress enough that everyone should read this book. I could not put it down. It’s 420 pages but felt like 4. It is not a memoir about politics; it’s not a platform for Michelle to use in a campaign. It’s a story about sacrifice. The sacrifices Michelle’s grandparents and parents made for her and her brother, the sacrifices Barack made for his country, the sacrifices Michelle and their daughters made for him. It’s the human-view of the Obama Whitehouse.

When it comes to political figures and celebrities, we are quick to dehumanize. We forget that behind every campaign dream, every policy change, every declaration of war - there are hard working human beings, burning themselves out to make the right moves. These are people who’ve had heartbreak, who are unsure of themselves, who get upset when they are criticized on Twitter.

Sacrifice is a big and powerful word, one that often is tied to the negative aspects of our experiences. We think of sacrifice as something we choose out of spite. And often times that’s true. But not in this story. Not completely, anyway. For every sacrifice made in Michelle Obama’s journey to FLOTUS - was one made out of a deep sense of purpose. We all have something to learn from that.

Michelle’s memoir will be read for generations. It’s by the first ever Black First Lady of the United States. Let that sink in a little. Buy a copy and curl up. You won’t regret it.

On Writing by Stephen King

Gosh, this book split me open. I’ve never read a book about writing before, but I ran into “Steve” at a Red Sox game and decided it was time I picked up one of his books. Since I don’t do ANYTHING in the horror genre (movie or book), this made the most sense. 

It made me realize how much I love writing and why I love it so much. It’s a medium by which we can communicate truth—where we can share in the reality of human nature, character, progress, depression, all of it. If you are an aspiring, or already successful writer, in either fiction or non-fiction, this is a must. But you don’t have to be a student of this craft to enjoy it. It’s for anyone who aspires to be great at anything creative.

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari

I read Lost Connections first based on a recommendation from a childhood friend. Hari provides an unconventional approach analyzing and proposing a solution to the growing rates of depression. His general thesis is that depression is actually a form of grief for how we expected life to turn out. That grief spirals into disconnection from what really matters in life and we find ourselves in a place of darkness.

In Chasing The Scream, he provides the same type of deep, thoughtful analysis of addiction and drugs. If you love someone that struggles with addiction, this is a must-read. It will change the game for how you think about and approach the subject.

Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get From Good To Great by Carmine Gallo

The premise of the author's argument is that persuasion--or the ability to connect with someone and change their mind--is the most critical skill to develop in order to stay relevant and valuable in a world that's being automated faster than we can even imagine. The robots are coming!!

Gallo provides a guide for how to think about building that skill in a way that is applicable to business presentations, TED talks, interviews, and all sorts of other social scenarios. He convinced me that crushing "soft skills" not "hard skills" is where it's at and where I need to invest most, if not all, of my time and energy.

The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk

Grief, shame, guilt, regret--these are hard things to talk about. But, deep emotional trauma caused by an event in which one’s control was all but stolen? It’s all but impossible for most of us to understand--even if we’ve been through something like it. This book is dense in the sense that it contains a lot of the psychological and neurological research. It’ll show you how the memory centers work and how trauma is processed, even what technology is coming into the fold. Despite the deep technicality, I think it’s a must-read for anyone interested in deeply empathizing and understanding the survivors of apartheid, abuse, mass shootings, war, etc.

Just last week, a woman stepped forth to explain her traumatic encounter with a man 30 years ago. She described the neurological and physiological effects of such a memory. If you recount her story, if you deny the possibility of its truth, it’s best to educate yourself further on the response of trauma. There is so much we still don’t understand about these matters that makes trauma, reported in a court of law or on national television, a point of intense discussion. I believe if you choose to be a part of this or any other related discussion, as a part of ideological, political, social, or dinner table discourse, it is SO necessary to read this book and to understand the scientific basis of trauma.

Mastery by Robert Greene

If you are in your twenties, this is a MUST read. I’d advocate for it being added to the college curriculum. Not only is Robert a brilliant writer who has this artful way of articulating stories and principles in a way that make them memorable, but this book is also quite literally the map for how to get really, really freaking good at something. The reason I think people in their twenties should read it is that so few of us are actually committed to the bigger vision, the long game. We are so distracted by what other people are doing and the fact that we aren’t successful yet that we are missing the opportunities right in front of us to grow, develop, learn, and create. [Robert had another book published last month called The Laws of Human Nature that I’m in the middle of right now. If you don’t know this dude’s work, you should.]

Perennial Seller The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday

No secret that I am a huge Ryan Holiday fan. Though I must say, the first time I picked up Perennial Seller it didn’t hit. The second time it hit big. It’s a primer for how to make something that will stand the test of time in a world that is obsessed with the most recent Twitter scandal. We need more people following Ryan’s primer, doing the deep intense research and work. The Daily Stoic is meant to be read over the course of 365 days. I read it in two. I write daily on my own website and the structuring of this book was a great inspiration for that.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I read almost no fiction, as you can probably tell. This was an exception, suggested to me by a dear friend last spring. I didn’t get up from the couch until I finished. This book is a compelling tale of a young black girl who goes to an all-white school and finds herself in the middle of a police brutality scandal after watching her friend be shot and killed by an officer on duty. I think this should be required reading for every person in America right now. It's a perspective that needs to be heard.

Runner-ups: Last year I read Principles by Ray Dalio and absolutely loved it. The Score Takes Care of Itself is fairly similar—written by former NFL coach, Bill Walsh, who approaches winning with a principled, detailed, process-oriented approach. StoryBrand was a book that was very popular with my ghostwriting and copywriting clients this year. It is a great framework for thinking about how to communicate a company’s products, services, and mission to the end user. I loved reading Empire State of Mind which is about Jay-Z’s business smarts and conquests. It was baffling to realize how much he has impacted culture. I’ve also suggested that a fair amount of clients and friends read The Million-Dollar One-Person Business, which is a primer for how to create exactly as the title says. 

Podcasts

Impact Theory with Tom Bilyeu

I discovered Impact Theory this year and have suggested it to strangers on the street. I think Tom is one of the best interviewers of our time. He really puts people on display in a way that allows them to bring their best ideas forward. If I could suggest you start with any episode it might be Ryan Holiday on The Keys to a Good Life or Kevin Kelly on The Power of Being Lost. Although I’m biased since that’s where I started.

The Tim Ferriss Show - #321 with Brandon Stanton from The Humans of New York and Nick Thompson -- Editor-In-Chief at Wired 

These episodes are about creativity. The first is almost entirely about writing--from ideation, to story structure, to what audience’s like, to finding an agent, to pitching a story. If you are intrigued by the process or business of writing, I highly suggest you give this a listen. The second is about how Humans of New York was started and the storms Brandon had to weather to achieve a degree of success. He is curious, kind, empathetic, and inspiring. Like all Tim Ferriss show episodes, these are long and uncut, but definitely worth the opinion. In terms of podcasts about creativity, the runner-up in this category would definitely have to be The Daily Show’s Secret to Creativity on WorkLife with Adam Grant. 

The Moment with Brian Koppelman

I’ve gone into the archives on this show. I’ve listened to most of the episodes and I think, for anyone that wants to be in a creative field, whether that’s writing, comedy, wedding photography, comics, or acting in Hollywood — this is a must listen. He interviews people from all sides of these different creative businesses and asks the prying questions. It’s incredibly insightful and just, well, brilliant. I can't believe I didn't find it sooner.

Conversations With Tyler 

I’ve become a big fan of Tyler Cowen this year. He’s a weird academic dude, an economist by trade, a self-proclaimed foodie. In DC, he’s considered an oracle of sorts and an interesting dude to say the least. His interviews are intellectual and force me to think outside the box of where I’m normally comfortable.

The Good Parts Podcast with Andy Grammer

I got to sit down with Andy Grammer earlier this year and talk about some really deep stuff. It changed my life for the better. A few months later he started a podcast, having similar conversations with his friends in film and music (totally can take credit for that - not). The conversations run deep. If I could suggest that you listen to any podcast episode it would be this one with Justin Baldoni.

Runner-ups: Finding Mastery Podcast with Michael Gervais & Pod Save America

An assortment of additional notes

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Something I’ve learned this year is that we (Americans, especially) hang our worldviews on whatever timely debates are happening on Twitter, even shifting them sometimes based on jabs and right hooks. It’s a little bit pathetic, or maybe even a lotta bit. Yet, we all do this—consciously and unconsciously—because we want to fit in AND we have a tendency to take what we read on the internet as truth. While I find it critical to stay informed, I’ve found that it isn’t helpful to stay up to date 24/7. This kind of connection to a device leads to opinion and information overload, the effects of which are sure to be detrimental to human progress in aggregate. 

One of the reasons I love reading books is because it gives me space and time away from the world that is trying to feed us repetitive personal development content, silly memes, and nasty news controlled by the people with the purse strings. If you want to make the world a better place, it’s easiest to start by changing your entry points and your inputs. To start by changing up what you think you know by exposing yourself to better ideas, better writing.

We live in amazing time—with access to the thoughts, philosophies, and stories of some of the most successful, interesting, and inspiring humans in history. Yet, so many of us are stuck in echo chambers, hearing only what our inner circles have to say. 

It’s for this reason that we were so blindsided in American politics in 2016. I think it’s important to seek out reputable, well-thought-out books, journalism, and content that can positively impact the way you think, the way your mental model looks. 2019 should be the year that we all vow to seek out truth from varying perspectives, disciplines, and domains.

If we can’t make it a priority to educate and inspire ourselves, who can we make it a priority for?

In 2019, I’m prepared to read more books ‘above my level’ about topics I’m interested in, yet that will challenge me at a much greater degree. I’m committed to becoming more informed but in a more timeless way. And as mentioned in newsletters past, I’m also trying to seek out different perspectives on topics I think I do understand so that I can challenge my worldview and build a more robust one. 

Thanks for reading my little soapbox speech. I’ll step off now and send off by saying that I sincerely appreciate you. I appreciate you being on this path with me and investing the time in reading these emails. I hope that you find one of the pieces of writing or audio listed above helpful as you embark into the new year. 

One last thing I want to know… What are you planning on reading in 2019? What podcasts have you heard that are worth the time?

Here’s to a year of learning and growth.

Xo,

Kate

Kate Ward