News & Opinion

Inside the Longlist: The Best Personal Development & Human Behavior Books of 2017

Blyth Meier

December 13, 2017


Far beyond the “self help” books of yesterday, these five personal development & human behavior books help you in ways you didn’t even know you needed.

I’m not sure if all of my colleagues feel the same as I do about the authors of the books in their categories, but I feel like I have six new best friends. Each of these books have been revelatory for me, turning lights on in corners of my mind I didn’t even know were there. I owe each of the authors a debt of gratitude. I want to have a dinner party with them and talk until the wee hours about their books, learn more about the stories they shared, and see the spark of friendship borne of great ideas flicker around the table. What a magical dream of an evening.

Far beyond the “self help” books of yesterday, the five books in this category help you in ways you didn’t even know you needed. I suggest you read them all, and have your life changed for the better.

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown, Random House

Whichever side of the political divide you find yourself on, it seems the only thing we can agree on these days is the simple fact that there is indeed a divide. It’s proven that most of us live in bubbles (both red and blue) at home, at work, and in our chosen social circles. For those of us that are the lone ‘other’ at work or at home, this book provides the courage to see your situation as a blessing instead of a curse. Grounded in scientific research, Brown’s latest digs deep into the struggle to see each other as individuals, and not just as members of “the other side.” Because, in reality, none of us fit into neat boxes based on political party platforms. Brené Brown calls us out on our collective bullshit, and walking that path with her feels unsettling, even scary. The thought of loosening the grip on our hard-earned viewpoints is unmooring—and exactly what our families, communities, and country needs right now to cultivate stronger connections to one another.

Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less by Tiffany Dufu, Flatiron Books

For women of a certain age, the phrase “have it all” was our supposed north star. Unfortunately, the feminist revolution didn’t change everything (really?), and as a result, we were left with some very damaging messaging: On top of our new careers and all the related office demands, we were still responsible for the majority of the tasks at home, the idea that these tasks must be done a certain way, and that any neglect of these rules is a poor reflection on our essential character. In her first book, Tiffany Dufu counters this narrative, showing us how she and her husband learned to “drop the ball.” This is not a passive neglect, but an active choice; a process the couple undertook to become true partners, resulting in a responsible way of dividing and conquering the tasks in their lives based on a deep understanding of their “highest and best use.” And this is no act, something she tried out to snag a book deal. When our office recently asked for her postal address, she joyously responded: “I dropped the ball on snail mail eight years ago. I don't even have a key to my mailbox!” Don’t you wish you could feel that free? Drop the ball, friends.

Insight: Why We're Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life by Tasha Eurich, Crown Business

Tasha Eurich believes we’ve moved on from the Age of Effort that America was founded and built upon, when modesty and humility were valued, and “the principles of hard work, grit, and resilience” reigned, and have now entered an Age of Esteem, in which the goal is simply to feel good about ourselves and our own exceptionalism. This leads us to be more self-obsessed than self-aware, and can lead to delusions about our own abilities and others' perception of us. To counter this debilitating trend, Eurich suggests we must deliberately develop more self-awareness. She shows how a lack of self-awareness makes it almost impossible to master the skills that make us stronger team players, superior leaders, and better relationship builders—at work and beyond. Eurich reveals how “the qualities most critical for success in today’s world—things like emotional intelligence, empathy, influence, persuasion, communication, and collaboration—all stem from self-awareness.” She also explores how leaders can build self-awareness in others, and instill it in their organizations. Along the way, you'll learn why everything you think you know about self awareness may be wrong, and how to make it right. 

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath & Dan Heath, Simon & Schuster

The Heath brothers are known for their storytelling, and their new book employs that ability to explore the moments our lives are made up of, how to make the most of them, and how to make more of them more meaningful. When we look back at our lives, we think of the defining moments. In their research, the Heaths have found there are four elements present in those defining moments: elevation (they rise above the everyday), insight (they change our understanding of the world), pride (they are when we are at our best), and connection (they are social). They then show us how we can provide better service, be better colleagues and bosses, better spouses and parents, and can better our very selves, simply by making better, more deliberate use of those four elements. Life is made up of moments, large and small, and what we do with them. The Heath brothers show us how to elevate the everyday to create more memorable moments to enhance our lives, and the lives of others.

Weird in a World That's Not: A Career Guide for Misfits, F*ckups, and Failures by Jennifer Romolini, Harper Business

Part memoir, part career survival guide, Jennifer Romolini’s book is a lifeline for those of us who see the workplace as a fishbowl of awkwardness. If you find academic studies and social psychology jargon hive-inducing, her inspiring and beautiful prose provides words one can actually imagine saying out loud to another human being in an office. She’s the no-nonsense friend you want on speed dial for all of your vexing work dilemmas, whether you’re a new grad or a seasoned manager. Weird in a World That's Not is funny and idiosyncratic and irreverent and satisfying and honest. Romolini’s hard-won experience gives us the courage to move through our work lives with grace and self respect, and that’s about as good as it gets.

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