The best books for lifelong learning

Warren Berger Author Of The Book of Beautiful Questions: The Powerful Questions That Will Help You Decide, Create, Connect, and Lead
By Warren Berger

The Books I Picked & Why

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know

By Adam Grant

Book cover of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know

Why this book?

Best-selling author and Wharton School psychologist Adam Grant posits that in today’s turbulent world, it’s increasingly important that we be able not only to think and learn, but to rethink and unlearn. To do this, we must develop new cognitive skills, a more open and curious mindset, and a humble attitude about what we actually know and don’t know. I particularly love the way Grant’s book gently guides us toward what he calls “confident humility”--a state wherein you’re comfortable admitting “I don’t know” but you also feel confident that “I can find out.” Grant also offers tips on how to encourage others to rethink and reconsider their views (the book even has a section in which Grant shows how to get Yankees fans to root for the hated Red Sox!)

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Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

By Elizabeth Gilbert

Book cover of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Why this book?

The author of Eat Pray Love shares her secrets to unlocking creativity. I happen to think learning and creativity go hand-in-hand; each inspires the other. And as Gilbert points out, perhaps the single most important ingredient for both creativity and lifelong learning is curiosity. Gilbert’s book celebrates the power of curiosity--and the ways it can lead you in fresh, unexpected directions. In one of my favorite parts of the book, the author explains why you should ignore all those people urging you to follow your passions (because after all, you may not even know what your “passion” is). Instead, Gilbert advises, just follow your curiosity.

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Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning

By Tom Vanderbilt

Book cover of Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning

Why this book?

A big part of lifelong learning involves experimenting, trying new things, and picking up new skills. I must confess this can be challenging for me; I’m one of those people who sometimes gets frustrated or embarrassed when I try something new and find it doesn’t come easily to me. Maybe you’re the same way--if so, all the more reason to take inspiration from Vanderbilt’s book, which chronicles his efforts to learn how to play chess, surf, sing, juggle, and more. Woven in with those entertaining experiences are larger lessons about how we learn, and why it’s so beneficial to keep doing so. In the hands of a less skilled writer, a book like this--in which a journalist tries on a series of new hats--might seem gimmicky. But Vanderbilt is an insightful observer and storyteller who can even make traffic fascinating (that was the subject of a previous book of his, which I also recommend).

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The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World

By Dorie Clark

Book cover of The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World

Why this book?

I’m a fan of Dorie Clark, whose previous books--including Stand Out and Reinventing You--are lively, highly-practical guides to building your career and establishing your own distinct niche as a thought leader (and today, anyone who wants to pursue their own successful career path should start by thinking of themselves as a thought leader). Dorie’s newest book, which doesn’t hit shelves until September of 2021, is particularly focused on long-term thinking--a lost art in today’s “do it now” world. This book balances nicely with Gilbert’s Big Magic - whereas that book encourages learning by pursuing your curiosities in the here and now, Clark’s The Long Game argues that we also need to think about how we want to learn and develop, over time. Yes, it’s great to be a lifelong learner, but how are you going to bring some focus to that--and make it all work for you, in terms of long-term success and satisfaction? Clark lays out principles and frameworks designed to help you escape the trap of short-term thinking and start seeing the bigger picture. The book gets at a theme that I have talked about in my own work: That in the midst of our busy lives, it’s important to slow down, step back, and ask ourselves challenging questions about the path we’re on and where we want to end up.

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Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

By Shunryu Suzuki

Book cover of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

Why this book?

I’ll end with a book that should be seen as a starting point in the journey of lifelong learning. Written more than a half-century ago by a Japanese priest of the Soto lineage who was one of the founding fathers of Zen in America, this slim but potent book helped popularize the concept of “beginner’s mind”--which is simply about trying to see the world around us with a fresh eye and an open mind. As Suzuki writes in his book, “The mind of the beginner is empty, free of the habits of the expert.” Such a mind, he added, “is open to all possibilities.” The book can help inspire you to bring a more naïve, childlike innocence and curiosity to all of the everyday wonders you encounter. As we all know, children are “beginners” who tend to be excellent learners. And so the challenge for us older folks is to find ways to keep doing what kids do so well--and do it for the rest of our lives.

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