These are the books I liked best I read in 2017. They’re not all published in 2017, because who is so caught up on reading they can only read current books?
Peter Wohlleben, 2016
I wouldn’t’ve guessed I’d get in to trees. Nature-wise, I’m more interested in bugs, birds, pollinators, active stuff that moves and has a social life. An algorithmic recommendation led me to a sample of this book and I gave it a shot.
Trees are so social, and Wohlleben writes like he’s one of them. The ways he describes how trees talk and how they live their lives made me feel for these things. Every page Wohlleben casually drops another amazing fact about trees.
This is the best book I read this year. It has me looking at the world differently.
A few highlights from my read through:
Assuming it grows to be 400 years old, [a beech tree] can fruit at least sixty times and produce a total of about 1.8 million beechnuts. From these, exactly one will develop into a full-grown tree—and in forest terms, that is a high rate of success, similar to winning the lottery.
The saliva of each species is different, and trees can match the saliva to the insect. Indeed, the match can be so precise that trees can release pheromones that summon specific beneficial predators.
Thanks to selective breeding, our cultivated plants have, for the most part, lost their ability to communicate above or below ground—you could say they are deaf and dumb—and therefore they are easy prey for insect pests.
The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas
Daniel Drezner, 2017
The Ideas Industry was released right as I was trying to figure out how thought-leadership and policy trends work, and how to separate the yahoos from serious introspection and investigation. Drezner’s history and explanation of the mechanics of the ideas marketplace was a stepping stone for me and it was a really interesting dive into the ideas landscape and how it’s being used and abused.
When authoritative institutions are no longer trusted, debates about first principles re-emerge.
Even if thought leaders lack traditional credentials, they can argue from personal experience. In any age when authenticity is a prized commodity, that gambit can work more effectively for thought leaders (who often derive their arguments inductively from experience) than for public intellectuals (who often work out their arguments using deductive analysis).
Political scientists make boring pundits, because their standard response to most headlines is “It’s not that important.”
Cal Newport, 2016
I was skeptical about this book when I picked it up. I thought: Deep Work sounds like it’s for developers and creatives, I work directly with clients and need a manager’s schedule. But when I dove in I found a lot of applicability to how I frame my work days.
The first half is an overview of the research for why long work periods are needed, but I’ll skip that when I read this again. The second half has the methods for setting boundaries around your day — I’m looking forward to revisiting that. Thanks to Casey for the recommendation.
Put more thought into your leisure time. In other words, this strategy suggests that when it comes to your relaxation, don’t default to whatever catches your attention at the moment, but instead dedicate some advance thinking to the question of how you want to spend your “day within a day.”
One of the chief things which my typical man has to learn is that the mental faculties are capable of a continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm or a leg. All they want is change—not rest, except in sleep.
John McPhee, 2017
Firstly, thank you John McPhee for not having an absurd, long subtitle for your book like the rest of this list.
I’m a sucker for books about how writers write and the process of creation, and was excited to read about it from McPhee. This is not a book of guidelines and tips, however. McPhee’s articles create habitats where his articles lessons breathe and live out what he’s teaching about the writing process. No rules or shortcuts to writing with McPhee. only meticulous craft.
I don’t have any highlights to reference for this book because I read it hardcover and immediately gave it to my mom after.