’s holiday book list: 68 reads that will inspire you. Pete Ryan For this year’s holiday book list, we asked TED speakers, educators and podcasters: “What books have inspired you?”
We hope their recommendations will help you refresh and recharge. You can skim the entire list, or use the links here to jump around to the different categories, which are: Business; Biographies and memoirs; Children’s books; Cookbooks and design; Current events; Essays and books on writing; Fiction; Graphic novels; History; Science, psychology and self-help. Business Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: How Interface Proved That You Can Build a Successful Business Without Destroying the Planet by Ray C. The Messy Middle: Finding Your Way Through the Hardest and Most Crucial Part of Any Bold Venture by Scott Belsky A week doesn’t go by without my recommending this book to someone.
No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Reed Hastings (TED Talk: 3 secrets to Netflix’s success) and Erin Meyer This is a book that I wish I had written. Fiction. Simone Weil on Attention and Grace. “Attention without feeling,” Mary Oliver wrote in her beautiful elegy for her soul mate, “is only a report.”
To fully feel life course through us, indeed, we ought to befriend our own attention, that “intentional, unapologetic discriminator.” More than half a century before Oliver, another enchantress of the human spirit — the French philosopher Simone Weil (February 3, 1909–August 24, 1943), a mind of unparalleled intellectual elegance and a sort of modern saint whom Albert Camus described as “the only great spirit of our times” — wrote beautifully of attention as contemplative practice through which we reap the deepest rewards of our humanity.
In First and Last Notebooks (public library) — the out-of-print treasure that gave us Weil on the key to discipline and how to make use of our suffering — she writes: Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. Weil considers the superiority of attention over the will as the ultimate tool of self-transformation: Albert Camus on Strength of Character and How to Ennoble Our Minds in Difficult Times. In 1957, Albert Camus (November 7, 1913–January 4, 1960) became the second youngest laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded to him for work that “with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.”
(It was with this earnestness that, days after receiving the coveted accolade, he sent his childhood teacher a beautiful letter of gratitude.) More than half a century later, his lucid and luminous insight renders Camus a timeless seer of truth, one who ennobles and enlarges the human spirit in the very act of seeing it — the kind of attentiveness that calls to mind his compatriot Simone Weil, whom he admired more than he did any other thinker and who memorably asserted that “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
Ode to a Flower: Richard Feynman’s Famous Monologue on Knowledge and Mystery, Animated. By Maria Popova Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman (May 11, 1918–February 15, 1988) was a champion of scientific culture, graphic novel hero, crusader for integrity, holder of the key to science, adviser of future generations, bongo player, no ordinary genius.
In this fantastic animated adaptation of an excerpt from Christopher Sykes’s celebrated 1981 BBC documentary about Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out — which gave us the great physicist’s timeless words on beauty, honors, and curiosity and his fascinating explanation of where trees actually come from — Fraser Davidson captures in stunning motion graphics Feynman’s short, sublime soliloquy on why knowledge enriches life rather than detracting from its mystery, the best thing since that animated adaptation of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot. I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. A Brave and Startling Truth: Maya Angelou’s Stunning Humanist Poem That Flew to Space, Inspired by Carl Sagan and Read by Astrophysicist Janna Levin. The second annual Universe in Verse — a charitable celebration of science through poetry, and a voice of resistance against the assault on nature — opened with the poem “A Brave and Startling Truth” by Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928–May 28, 2014), which flew to space on the Orion spacecraft and which Angelou dedicated to “the hope for peace, which lies, sometimes hidden, in every heart.”
I chose this poem to set the tone for the show in part because it is absolutely stunning and acutely relevant to our cultural moment, and in part because the first time I read it, it sparked in me a sudden insight into the often invisible ways in which science and poetry influence and inspire one another — into how the golden threads of thought and feeling stretch and cross-hatch across disciplines to weave what we call culture.
Angelou composed the poem for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in 1995.