Books sometimes call to you for reasons that you don’t totally know why. But they become clearer as you reflect on them.
Our annual list of favorite employee reads is full of inspiration, intrigue, and action for holiday downtime or whenever you need a mental escape. In no particular order, please peruse and enjoy 21 reads that receive StarFish employees’ stamp of “worth your time”.
Edison by Edmund Morris. Great read for entrepreneurial product developers and business minded folk.
Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein. The 2023 Giller prize winner. My family gets me the annual Giller prize novel for Christmas each year. Pure Canadiana eh?
The Origin of Species / The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin. That was super interesting. It put myself back into the mind of a 20 something year old in the 1830s. Just the optimism and the knowledge and the discovery of it was so fantastic.
Nick Lane Lean, The vital question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life Lane is about thermodynamics and the origin of life. That was totally amazing. Essentially, he argues against the primordial ooze theory of the origin of life on a thermodynamic basis and argues that there are very particular conditions that had to be present to allow the functions of a cell to evolve separately from the cell membrane. Because that has profound implications for the nature of life, and I found it very interesting and it’s quite a deep book.
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver is a modern-day spin on David Copperfield, alongside the impacts on family and society of prescription drug addiction, and a strong pull for survival.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune Foster care and X-men like abilities combine in this lovely tale.
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore is a reminder of the importance of being mindful and living in the present, even when ever year you are alive has you experiencing a difference year in your timeline.
Brunel: The Man Who Built the World I enjoyed actually reading the biography of Brunel. Just fascinating. He built the largest ships in the world, was one of the creators of practical bridges, built railway lines. It was an era of grand discovery and grand creation of new technology. And he went up against all sorts of prevailing opinion that these bigger ships would never work. Actually, he sort of created the conditions for the whole shipping industry and the railway industry to exist later.
When someone does something so audacious and they succeed at it, it’s kind of inspiring. So that’s kind of why I read it because the 19th century was kind of a time of grand vision and aspiration. I liked that aspect of it.
After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul by Tripp Mickle. Business history and super interesting.
Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon Michael Lewis’ latest book is a story about the cryptocurrency exchange that blew up.
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng is a thought-provoking dystopian novel set in a post-crisis world. Celeste Ng draws many parallels between her fictional work and what is happening in the world today. This was an engaging and thoughtful read.
Clear Thinking by Shane Parrish Have you ever arrived at a moment in life when you ask yourself “How did I get here?” Most people think that the big decisions matter the most. That’s not true. The big decisions and the collection of the little decisions you make everyday matter equally.
The Bible (ESV) I greatly enjoy this book. It gives meaning and advice to all aspects of my life and I’m sure it can benefit many earnest readers. A book for all types of people, all backgrounds and all stages and aspects of life. Whether you are a kid, professional, entrepreneur, family person, business partner – it presents stories of love, compassion, inspiration, wisdom and of human nature backed by thousands of years of popularity. It is historical, poetic, literature rich, drama inclusive, heart-warming and thought provoking at the very least. A must read for those any truth seekers.
Essentialism’ by Greg McKeown. My fave book for this year teaches that it’s more effective to do less but better, focusing on what truly matters. It emphasizes the power of choice, encouraging us to intentionally select tasks that align with our goals. Lastly, it highlights the importance of the discipline to say “no,” ensuring we prioritize our time and energy on high-impact activities. I found it helpful to be able to focus on doing things that actually moved the needle for me both at work and in my after-work activities.
Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change by Bill Joiner, which I totally loved. Basically, it talks about a theory of leadership development. It really grafted onto ideas of adult development. And as the company grows and gets more complex, you require leaders who have the ability to deal with complexity and work through complex problems. Which of course, in engineering that’s something we value a lot. But business problems look a lot like engineering problems from that standpoint. So, it provided a framework, some insight into that nature of questions I’ve been wrestling with for some time.
Memoirs of a Breton Peasant by Jean-Marie Déguignet is this amazing book written in the late 1800s by a peasant. He was kicked in the head by a horse as a young boy and somehow when he emerged from that he had sort of a modernist thinking. He became very rational and became very skeptical of all of the superstitious practices around him and became a rationalist. But he was also very poor, and he ended up fighting in Napoleon the third’s army. And I think maybe in the Battle of Balaclava, went to Mexico and then he wrote about all this when he was an old man. I found it amazing to transport into that.
Dry by Augusten Burroughs is a story about a raging alcoholic, and a marketing guy. You’d like it. Just an entertaining fun read. That’s what I liked about it. And the guy is like an ad guy, right? He works in an ad agency coming up with big ad campaigns for major brands, but he’s also extremely irreverent. It’s partly the story of him having such an addiction that his alcoholism goes wildly out of control. He ends up in that in the in Alcoholics Anonymous and talks about that experience. Being a very hip down in New York guy and then having to come to terms with this very prosaic problem in his life.
He’s just a beautiful, beautiful writer. I think it’s therapy, honestly, it’s kind of almost like a humor book. Like he writes it in a very witty brand of observation and humor. But it’s also maybe a book of helping other people grapple with similar things. From a standpoint of whatever his voice that he projects. He’s gone on to write several other books and he never went back to the ad agency life after that.
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson. People have a lot of different ideas about him. And he was clearly a very, very bright man. But it was kind of like the political context of the American Revolution and family dynamics between him and his father and his son, and he was a bit of a non-conformist. He never really married his wife, which at the time would have been a big deal. And sort of the gradual evolution of this sort of birth of the American identity. I enjoyed that.
Here’s my favourite duo of 2023 I had the pleasure of reading again while preparing to teach a Business Negotiations on during the summer. I was first introduced to these texts at business school a couple of years ago but the stress of shuffling between work, studies and trying to get a good grade blind sighted me from appreciating the brilliance of the books.
Getting Past No by William Ury discusses negotiation tactics and strategies for dealing with difficult and resistant individuals. In the book, Ury provides very practical and easy to apply techniques to get past “no” in business and personal life situations which made the book an exciting read and a helpful resource for teaching the course. Topics include Don’t react — Go to the balcony, Disarm them — Step to their side, Change the game — Don’t reject, reframe, Make it easy to say yes — Build a golden bridge, and Make it hard to say no.
Getting to Yes by William Ury and Prof. Roger Fisher is a practical and uncomplicated guide for resolving conflicts of all types and forms. The authors present 6 integrative skills anyone can acquire and improve upon for effective negotiation including separating people from the problem, focusing on interests rather than positions, managing emotions, expressing appreciation, putting a positive spin on your message, and escaping the cycle of action and reaction.
The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win by Maria Konnikova, which is all about this journalist who decides to become a professional poker player. And she writes the story which is full of fascinating insights and a lot of parallels to business. The biggest parallel in a poker game is this notion where they do an irrational thing. What’s the best choice you can make? So if you underplay your hands and people notice that then they’ll take advantage of that, and if you overplay your hands, they’ll notice that and take advantage of that. It’s actually coming to this spot where you’re living in this sort of Meta world of understanding everybody else and how or what they mean by how they act and what they project. It’s an infinitely complex but fascinating. Because she started as an outsider, and she has some kind of ability to communicate to people who aren’t professional poker players. From talking to poker people, I know it’s like a world unto itself and they speak their own language. But after a while, they can only talk to other poker people because that’s their language.
Never Rest on Your Ores: Building a Mining Company, One Stone at a Time by Norman B. Keevil is about the history of the Teck Mining Corporation, which became one of the world’s great mining companies. It’s basically full of all of these deals. It talks about different partnerships and deals and how they all played out and what all happened. How do you build up a really successful company by not really controlling anything entirely but having all these different partnerships and different ways.
Did we miss one of your favorite 2023 reads? Drop us a line and we’ll happily add them to our collection!
Astero StarFish is the attributed author of StarFish Medical team blogs. We value teamwork and collaborate on all of our medical device development projects.