It is the time of the year for lists so I figured I would put together a list of the books which most influenced my thinking on the topic of unlearning this year. (Note: These are the books I read in 2009 — some were published earlier.) There are also some books still on my bookshelf such as Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt and SuperFreaknomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance) by Steven Levitt which I have not yet read but, to be fair, may have made the list.)
1. Think Twice: Harness the Power of Counter-Intuition by Michael J. Mauboussin: The double entendre in the title alone almost makes this book worth reading. (Do you see the words "Thin Ice" in the title "Think Twice"?) This book wins my award for most underlined of the year.
2. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall. Did you know there isn't a single scientific study demonstrating running shoes prevent injuries? Not a single one! This book is why I read. It is entertaining, informative and successfully challenges conventional wisdom. (I have even started running barefoot because of it.)
3. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely. Think you are rational? You'll think again after reading this book.
4. How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life by Thomas Gilovich. Written in 1991, this book left me wishing I read it 18 years earlier. It would have saved me from making a great many mistakes.
5. How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. This book offers a compelling look at the practical lessons we can learn from neuroscience — such as why we don't want to tell our kids that they are smart.
6. The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow. Did you know that you are twice as likely to die in route to buying a lottery ticket as you are to actually winning the lottery? Randomness has a much greater influence on our lives than most people appreciate.
7. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Dan Pink. This book has helped me see the world in a different way. For example, did you know that the average toaster is only used for 15 minutes a day but is on display the remaining 1425 minutes? This might not seem like a deep revelation but to the people who make toasters it should be because it might inform their decision to place a great emphasis on design.
8. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. Did you know that by simply framing a question differently Austria was able to get 99% of its citizens to agree to voluntarily donate their organs (in the event of an accident). This is opposed to Germany where only 12% of its citizens agreed to the same request? Often, a small "nudge" can make a huge difference.
9. Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman. If you need to interview someone for an important job read this book. It will explain why your best strategy may be not to interview the person at all.
10. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes: This was one of the first additions to my anti-library. I especially liked this quote: "Strange about learning; the farther I go the more I see that I never knew even existed. A short while ago I foolishly thought I could learn everything–all the knowledge in the world. Now I hope only to be able to know of its existence, and to understand one grain of it."
Good words to end on. Here's to more unlearning in 2010 and beyond!