6 Must-Read Book Recommendations From Our Favorite Leaders

We asked Arianna Huffington, Ryan Holmes, Tim Ferriss, and other hyper-literate worldchangers what’s on their nightstand. We found a mixture of inspiration, perspiration, and well-timed space walks.

As the new year begins, we asked some of the most insightful (and well-read) people in the Fast Company universe of what book they loved over the past year. The results: why full attention is a form of love, why having too much to do warps all our decisions, and what an astronaut can tell us about life on Earth.


If reading way more books is the path to having a more knowledgeable new year, these are the texts to remember.

Focus by Daniel Goleman

Recommended by: Arianna Huffington, editor of the Huffington Post

I love how Focus is a sustained look at our addiction to screens and devices and the countless external distractions that threaten to take us further from ourselves and the people we love. His lesson–that “full attention is a form of love”–is something we can all learn from and take to heart.

To Sell Is Human by Dan Pink

Recommended by: Adam Grant, Wharton professor and bestselling author of Give and Take


The book presents a compelling case that regardless of our jobs, we’re all in sales now, and offers many fresh insights for selling products and services–as well as ourselves and our ideas.  It’s a brilliant tour of the new landscape of pitching and persuading, and it has had a significant, lasting impact on my everyday behavior.

I learned how to be more resilient in the face of rejection, how to write a more enticing email subject line and a more interesting tweet, how to become a better social cartographer by drawing a discussion map of who talks to whom in a room, and even how to convince my 5-year-old to clean up her room. I loved reading about why Bob the Builder is smarter than The Little Engine That Could, how Pixar’s template can be applied to pitch a startup to investors, and what happened when Dan cold-called the so-called king of cold-calling. The book also debunks a series of myths: it turns out that extraverts aren’t the best salespeople, we no longer live in a world of “buyer beware,” and telling yourself “I can do this” isn’t the best way to boost your motivation.

This is as good as it gets; there is no business writer on the planet who rivals Dan Pink’s ability to weave together bold thinking, original ideas, lucid writing, fascinating research, engaging examples, and immensely practical advice.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything by Chris Hadfield

Recommended by: Ryan Holmes, CEO of HootSuite

Astronaut Chris Hadfield’s story inspires me for a lot of reasons. Despite facing some huge obstacles along the way, he’s someone who has never stopped trying to achieve his biggest goals in life. It’s this mentality that led him to become the first Canadian ever to walk in space, it’s what led to him serving as commander of the International Space Station for five months in 2013. Hadfield’s achievements have proven to me that by knowing yourself and always following your heart, you have the power to turn the impossible into reality. I recommend anyone who dreams big and who strives to stay true to themselves to read this book.

Hadfield recently gave me an autographed edition of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. Tweet me with the hashtag #hoothadfield and tell me why you’d like the book. I’ll give it to the person with the most interesting reason.

Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi

Recommended by: Tim Ferriss, author of the 4 Hour Chef and star of The Tim Ferriss Project

Very candid, very amusing, and very instructional. A lot of takeaways, philosophical and practical takeaways from a tough but successful career. One big takeaway, I’d say, is learning how to harness pain and anger and channel it in the right direction so that it’s constructive, rather than destructive.

The Flinch by Julien Smith (part of the Domino Project, Seth Godin)

Recommended by: Mikael Cho, founder of Ooomf


It’s a short book about overcoming a misrepresented fear. The Flinch is the thing that tells you not to start your company that you dream about. It’s that thing that tells you not to speak in front of an audience.

The Flinch is hard to overcome because it’s tied to our evolution- a part of our genetic makeup meant to keep us alive. This book discusses how The Flinch is no longer valid because, for the most part, bears are not chasing us trying to eat us anymore.

For many of us, The Flinch has become the root of excuses. When I think of the hardest thing I have to do (and I don’t want to do it) I recognize that this is The Flinch. Noticing when your primitive brain is taking over is a powerful thing. It forces you to act in the opposite way. To counteract The Flinch.

Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir

Recommended by: Oliver Burkeman, Guardian columnist and author of The Antidote

An extraordinarily illuminating examination of how people make bad decisions when they have too little of the resource they most need, whether that’s money or time. On the one hand, this helps explain why the poor stay poor, and as such it’s a much-needed counterweight to the prevailing idea that economic success is just a matter of putting in enough effort. It shows, for example, that good social welfare policies don’t encourage a culture of dependency; rather, they  give people the extra mental bandwidth they need to make better decisions and move out of poverty.

On the other hand, for those of us lucky enough not to be poor, but nonetheless stressed to the limit by busyness, the book shows how having too much to do warps our decision making in ways that lead to even more busyness–a very strong argument for fighting to re-insert slack into your over-filled schedule.

What book is your must read for 2014? Let us know in the comments.


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.