The best books to make you grateful you live today

Who am I?

I did not use to believe in human progress, but thought there must have been good old days behind us – until I studied history and understood that my ancestors did not live ecologically, they died ecologically, at an early age. Since then I’ve been obsessed with progress, what makes it possible and how we can spread it to more people. I am a historian of ideas from Sweden, the host of a video series on innovations in history, New and Improved, and the writer of many books on intellectual history and global economics, translated into more than 25 languages.


I wrote...

Open: The Story of Human Progress

By Johan Norberg,

Book cover of Open: The Story of Human Progress

What is my book about?

Mankind conquered the planet because we use more brains and more hands, always learning from and exchanging with others. History’s great civilizations were dependent on openness to people, goods, and ideas from strange places – and so are we.

But there is a catch. We developed this ability to cooperate harmoniously so that we could kill and steal. Competition between groups in pre-history turned us into traders, but also tribalists, tempted to divide the world into us and them. We need openness, but are often uncomfortable with it. This is the historical and psychological background to the current battle between Open and Closed. Part sweeping history and part polemic, this book makes the case for why an open world is worth fighting for more than ever.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Good Old Days-- They Were Terrible!

Johan Norberg Why did I love this book?

This 1974 book, by the founder of one of the world’s great picture libraries, was a real eye-opener to me when I first read it. We are all nostalgic and look at the past through rose-tinted glasses, and so do I. But then we forget about the hunger and the crime, tuberculosis, smallpox and heaps of trash on the streets, the child labor, and the despair of the aged. This richly illustrated book, with its multitude of stories, set me straight. For instance, did you know that New York had 150,000 horses in 1900, each producing around 20 pounds of manure a day? The past stank. It makes you deeply grateful for science, technology, and economic growth.

By Otto Bettmann,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Good Old Days-- They Were Terrible! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Good Old Days—were they really good? On the surface they appear to be so—especially the period to which this term is most often applied, the years from the end of the Civil War to the early 1900’s. This period of history has receded into a benevolent haze, leaving us with the image of an ebullient, carefree America, the fun and charm of the Gilded Age, the Gay Nineties.

But this gaiety was only a brittle veneer that covered widespread turmoil and suffering. The good old days were good for but the privileged few. For the farmer, the laborer, the…


Book cover of The Emigrants

Johan Norberg Why did I love this book?

This is a series of four novels, based on the true story of the Swedish emigration to America in the 19th and early 20th century. It is a powerful tale of the hunger and oppression that forced them away, the physical and psychological cost of migration, and the promise of freedom in the new world. By condensing a million life stories into the staunch individualist Karl Oskar and his slightly more hesitant family and friends, Vilhelm Moberg did not just make history come alive, he also illustrated eternal truths about mankind and its struggle for progress.  

By Vilhelm Moberg,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Emigrants as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Considered one of Sweden's greatest 20th-century writers, Vilhelm Moberg created the characters Karl Oskar and Kristina Nilsson to portray the joys and tragedies of daily life for early Swedish immigrants in America. His consistently faithful depiction of these humble people's lives is a major strength of the Emigrant Novels.

Moberg's extensive research in the papers of Swedish emigrants in archival collections enabled him to incorporate many details of pioneer life. First published between 1949 and 1959 in Swedish, these four books were considered a single work by Moberg, who intended that they be read as documentary novels. These reprint editions…


Book cover of The Triumph of Liberty: A 2,000 Year History Told Through the Lives of Freedom's Greatest Champions

Johan Norberg Why did I love this book?

To me, it seems like you have to become an optimist when you study history, because you understand the terrible circumstances that we have managed to get away from. But it doesn’t happen by itself. This is the story about some of the most important individuals who made that possible. Jim Powell portrays freedom fighters throughout history, from Cicero and Locke to Martin Luther King Jr and F A Hayek, and many less well-known names. But Powell does not just describe their ideas, but their lives, the communities that made them possible, their courage, and their doubts. It’s incredibly inspiring.

By James Powell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This volume contains the stories of men and women who have overcome great obstacles to give freedom to the world. Through the lives of 65 people, these stories cover the struggle to abolish slavery, stop wars, and overthrow tyrants, as well as the fight for human rights, religious toleration, individualism, the liberation of women and other such freedoms. The entries are based on biographies, diaries and interviews with scholars to provide an instructive narrative.


Book cover of Wealth Explosion: The Nature and Origins of Modernity

Johan Norberg Why did I love this book?

The great fact of economic history is that we all used to be poor, and now most of us are not. 200 years ago, almost 90 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, today around 9 percent does. This is the story of that remarkable transformation and what made it possible. Of course, there are many good books on this, and I have greatly enjoyed for example Joel Mokyr, Deirdre McCloskey, and David Landes, but this is a powerful, short book by a great historian, that manages to weave together economic, political, technological and intellectual factors into a very compelling narrative of progress and its preconditions over the past one thousand years.

By Stephen Davies,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

How did the modern dynamist economy of wealth and opportunity come about? This major new analytical work emphasizes the often surprising, fundamental and continuing processes of innovation and transformation which has produced the world we live in now. / Today we live in a social and economic world that is fundamentally different from the one inhabited by our ancestors. The difference between the experience of people living today and that of all of our ancestors back to the advent of agriculture is as great as that between them and their hunter-gatherer forebears. The processes of transformational changes could have started…


Book cover of Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

Johan Norberg Why did I love this book?

I also wake up every morning, check the news and think that the world is falling apart. Because evolution in our dangerous pre-history often resulted in the survival of those who worried most. That is why we have to check the data and the long-term trends to correct for our exaggerated sense of drama, to understand where we are – in the period of time with the most wealth, best health, most literacy, and least poverty. There are other great books from rational optimists, like Matt Ridley, Hans Rosling, and Charles Kenny, but Steven Pinker’s is the one that covers most areas, and does it in a convincing and impassioned way. It is a wonderful book and one you should have on the bedside table, if only for a quick glance every time you get the impression the world is falling apart.

By Steven Pinker,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Enlightenment Now as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2018
ONE OF THE ECONOMIST'S BOOKS OF THE YEAR

"My new favorite book of all time." --Bill Gates

If you think the world is coming to an end, think again: people are living longer, healthier, freer, and happier lives, and while our problems are formidable, the solutions lie in the Enlightenment ideal of using reason and science. By the author of the new book, Rationality.

Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third…


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Songbird

By Laci Barry Post,

Book cover of Songbird

Laci Barry Post Author Of Songbird

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Group fitness instructor Mom of two Travel consultant Hiker

Laci's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

It's 1943, and World War II has gripped the nation, including the Stilwell family in Jacksonville, Alabama. Rationing, bomb drills, patriotism, and a changing South barrage their way of life. Neighboring Fort McClellan has brought the world to their doorstep in the form of young soldiers from all over the country and German POWs from halfway around the globe.

Songbird is an inspirational, historical fiction novel, dealing with family, faith, strong women, and the American home front. It explores many historical elements of the World War II era, such as women's aid groups, the writings of Ernie Pyle, D-day, radio and music of the 1940s, and the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Songbird

By Laci Barry Post,

What is this book about?

When the perils and social changes of World War II confront a small southern town, faith, family, and love sustain the lives of one young woman and her family. Can those left behind endure?

"I'm waiting for my life to begin. Waiting for the train to come in," Ava Stilwell, a young woman eager for life, sings a popular song with the big band that reflects her heart. In the midst of a world at war, Ava finds love, a passion for her music, and new opportunities, but the war still looms over her, threatening to take it all away.…


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