The best books for understanding the world we live in

Who am I?

I want to make the world a better place. After many failed attempts to achieve this goal, I realized that I didn’t understand the world well enough to make a positive impact. Serendipitously, I started working with Farnam Street, a company that is dedicated to mastering the best of what other people have figured out. One of our most significant projects is The Great Mental Models book series, which consists of four volumes of fundamentals about the world. Learning and using the models to co-write this book series is how I found all the books on this list. I plan to give a set to each of my children to give them a jump start on living effectively. 

I wrote...

General Thinking Concepts

By Rhiannon Beaubien, Shane Parrish,

Book cover of General Thinking Concepts

What is my book about?

The Great Mental Models project is the clearest way to change the way you see the world, avoid problems before they happen, and make better decisions. The series consists of four volumes that cover the core, timeless, ideas that you should have learned in school and applies them to real life. This instant Wall Street Journal bestseller is the breakthrough guide you need to improve your thinking.

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The books I picked & why

Thinking in Systems

By Donella Meadows,

Book cover of Thinking in Systems

Why did I love this book?

Systems are everywhere. They are an inescapable part of life. One of the best things we can do to improve ourselves and the world is develop our understanding of them.

Thinking in Systems is my go-to start point for everything systems. The writing is clear, and the stories are meaningful. Donella Meadows does an amazing job of breaking down systems, exposing their connections, and building them back up to show us how we can solve the problems that are important to us.

This book opened my eyes in so many ways, by showing me connections between what I do and the results I get that I never knew existed. If you’ve ever looked around and wondered why the world is the way it is, this book will give you the tools to find answers.

By Donella Meadows,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Thinking in Systems as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic book on systems thinking, with more than half a million copies sold worldwide!

This is a fabulous book. This book opened my mind and reshaped the way I think about investing. Forbes

Perfect for fans of Kate Raworth, Rutger Bregman and Daniel Kahneman!

The co-author of the international best-selling book Limits to Growth, Donella Meadows is widely regarded as a pioneer in the environmental movement and one of the world's foremost systems analysts . Her posthumously published Thinking in Systems, is a concise and crucial book offering insight for problem solving on scales ranging from the personal to…

On Dialogue

By David Bohm,

Book cover of On Dialogue

Why did I love this book?

I often think that so many problems in the world could be solved with better communication. More and more we stick with people who think like us, because the challenge of bridging ideological gaps seems too great.

So, how to talk to people who have values that are in opposition to yours? How can you connect with people whose experiences have given them a life that you can’t relate to? In On Dialogue, David Bohm gives us a way to tear apart the fear and hesitation of the no-man’s land between ourselves and people we don’t understand.

There are always people with whom we don’t know how to communicate. We can’t let that stop us from trying. Bohm’s book will give you the tools to do just that.

By David Bohm,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On Dialogue as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

David Bohm has a very high profile and is a major author

Dialogue is one of Bohm's well-known areas of study

With a new preface by prominent US management guru, Peter Senge

This book can also be sold into the management and business markets as a guide to effective communication in the workplace

Book cover of Holistic Wealth: 32 Life Lessons to Help You Find Purpose, Prosperity, and Happiness

Why did I love this book?

We are all going to lose someone we love. We are all going to go through the pain of people we care about dying. We are all going to contemplate our mortality at some point and wonder if what we’re doing has much of a point, if we could do better, and if we could make life a little less painful somehow.

Keisha Blair lost her husband when they were both in their thirties, when their son was 8 weeks old. She shares what she learned about building from that wreckage in Holistic Wealth. The book puts the pain of loss front and center, and then offers insights from stories and interviews on how to take care of our money, our relationships, and our spirituality, and thus ourselves.

By Keisha Blair,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Holistic Wealth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Build a better, richer life by following thirty-two lessons that lead to happiness.
Imagine a life where you are financially savvy and independent, living with purpose and generosity while inspiring others. Holistic Wealth will teach you to master these tenets of a happy and joyful life, giving you a greater sense of wholeness and resilience in times of difficulty.
By expanding on the teachings shared in her viral article "My Husband Died at 34; Here Are 40 Life Lessons I Learned From It" author Keisha Blair presents revolutionary strategies that will help you find balance and success. By following actionable,…

Book cover of Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life

Why did I love this book?

Emily Nagoski’s overall message is that we’re all built differently—physically and mentally—and we can all carve out a path that works for us.

So knowing how you’re built is useful for making choices in love and sex that work for you. Nagoski looks through a range of lenses at everything from basic anatomy, to all the wonderful, satisfying ways we can love and be loved as sexual beings. There’s no one way to do it, any of it, and thus the good news is there are lots of ways we can enjoy being in our bodies. While no one book could ever capture the diversity and complexity of human sexuality, Come As You Are helped me to better understand the world I live in. I learned more about my body after reading this book than I did from nearly forty years living in it.

By Emily Nagoski,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Come as You Are as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


An essential exploration of women's sexuality that will radically transform your sex life into one filled with confidence and joy.

After all the books that have been written about sex, all the blogs and TV shows and radio Q&As, how can it be that we all still have so many questions? The frustrating reality is that we've been lied to - not deliberately, it's no one's fault, but still. We were told the wrong story.

Come as You Are reveals the true story behind female sexuality, uncovering the little-known science of what makes us tick…

Book cover of The Country of First Boys: And Other Essays

Why did I love this book?

Most people, I think, when they start to understand the world better, they start to see the endless ways that it could be improved. Some of us though, we get stuck in the ideas of improvement, and never figure out how to just get on with it.

Amartya Sen won a Nobel Prize and has other thought-provoking books. But I like this one. The Country of First Boys is a series of essays that are technically about various issues in India, but which are easily extrapolated to depressingly common situations in most other countries. Central to the essays is the theme of not letting the idea of a perfectly just society get in the way of the business of reducing injustice. We can debate utopia until we take our last breath, but in the meantime, Sen inspires us that there is much we can do now to improve the world we live in.

By Amartya Sen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Country of First Boys as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Time and again Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate and polymath, has stimulated our thoughts and world-view through his ideas. In his new collection of cultural essays Sen examines social justice and welfare, by addressing some of the fundamental issues of our time like deprivation, disparity, hunger, illiteracy, alienation, globalization, media, freedom of speech, injustice, inequality, exclusion, and exploitation.

Sens deeply informed and humane writing connects history, culture, literature, economics, and politics. Several of the essays are concerned particularly with India - its historical traditions and the issues it faces today; many - such as his address to the General Assembly of…

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