The best books I've read - Non Fiction

Thu, 23 Mar 2017

I’m often asked to recommend good non-fiction books, and these are the ones I’ve loved and been most influenced by.  Obviously some people will struggle to see the appeal of some of these topics, but hopefully you’ll find something in this list that you want to read.


Saving Capitalism, by Robert Reich

Former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich’s account of how politics and capitalism has become unsustainable, and how it can be fixed.

The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition and the Common Good, by Robert Frank

I spend a lot of time thinking about how society should operate and how resources can best be allocated.  This book has massively impacted my thinking, helping me to see

Other People’s Money, by John Kay

A balanced and in-depth look at financial markets and institutions, at what factors make them effective and what factors makes them destabilising.

When Genius Failed, by Roger Lowenstein

The story of Long Term Capital Management, the hedge fund founded in 1994 that imploded in 1998, which included such financial stars as Robert Merton and Myron Scholes.  A fascinating and readable insight into what hedge funds do, and how things can go wrong.

Traders, Guns and Money, by Satyajit Das

Fast paced yet thought provoking adventures in the world of financial derivatives.  A lot more fun than it sounds (though that could just be me!).

The Partnership: The Making of Goldman Sachs, by Charles Ellis

A very readable history of what I consider to be the greatest bank in history, filled with illuminating anecdotes of the people and events that have shaped Goldman Sachs.

Final Accounting, by Barbara Toffler

Subtitled ‘Pride, ambition, greed and the fall of Arthur Anderson’, this was a fascinating insight into the culture at the accounting firm brought down by events at Enron.

From Edison to Enron, by Richard Munson

Probably only of interest to those working in energy, but I really enjoyed and learned a lot from this history of the US electricity industry.

Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, by Peter Bernstein

A wonderful account that brings to life the people and events responsible for statistics, probability and risk management, from ancient times to the present.  

The Theory that would not die, by Sharon Mcgrayne

One for statistics nerds, the incredible (no exaggeration!) story of Bayesian statistics.

Philosophical Theories of Probability, by Donald Gillies

I have been intrigued by probability and what it actually means since my undergraduate days, and this book does an excellent job of summarising the different theories and perspectives.

Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman, by Richard Feynman

I read this in my final year of high school, and it made me fall in love with physics.  

Chaos, by James Gleick

I discovered chaos theory in my first year of university and loved its multidisciplinary nature, and the fact that it was such a new field of science.  I particularly credit this book, which does a wonderful job of telling the history of this field.

Uncle Tungsten, by Oliver Sacks

A beautifully written book - part childhood memoir, part history of chemistry.  It is possibly the book that I’ve recommended the most times.

Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande

An essential and thought provoking book by a surgeon, reflecting on the nature and objectives of end of life care.  

Give and Take, by Adam Grant

Of all the books I’ve read on personal effectiveness, this resonated the most - it explains and promotes thoughtful and sustainable generosity in our lives.

How to have a Beautiful Mind, by Edward de Bono

I have friends that are an absolute pleasure to spend time with, and I know people that I just don’t enjoy being around - the biggest quality distinguishing people in the former category is (in my opinion) their beautiful mind.  I read this 12 years ago, and loved it (and really should read it again).  

Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell

This was the first book I read by Gladwell and still my favorite - I love his way of thinking about the quirkiness of human nature, and I frequently find myself retelling his anecdotes.

The One World School House: Education Reimagined, by Salman Khan

Khan is the founder of online education resource Khan Academy, and this book outlines its origins and presents his thoughts about the future of education.  I find it inspiring and thought provoking.

The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama

I read this at the start of 2008, when I knew nothing of Obama, and haven’t read a political vision that more closely aligned with my own.  No less inspirational a dream for his inability to realise it in the political landscape of the last decade.

The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion, by Jonathan Haidt

This book is essential reading for anyone that wants to make sense of our polarised societies, and to learn to see the good in differing opinions.

Mother Tongue, by Bill Bryson

A insightful and enjoyable survey of the English language, how it has evolved and how it is used and abused.  I have since read a number of other books on the subject, but this is still my favorite.

Down Under, by Bill Bryson

It is always good to know something about your own country, and I learned more about Australia’s history and geography from this book than I ever picked up at school.  Entertaining and insightful.

Red China Blues, by Jan Wong

Jan Wong moved from Canada to Beijing in 1972, a devoted follower of Mao.  This book tells of her time as a student during the Cultural Revolution, and then later returned to China as a journalist in the 1980s.  A unique personal insight into a fascinating period of history.

What’s so Amazing about Grace, by Philip Yancey

I have a complicated relationship with Christianity, ranging from scepticism, frustration, profound respect, and genuine desire for it to be a part of my life.  This book did more than any other to see Christianity’s positive side.