A few years ago, I wrote a list of books that changed my life, in categories that matter deeply to me: Social Entrepreneurship, Social and Environmental Justice, Moral Philosophy and Faith, Leadership, Your Brain, Creativity, Life Skills, and When You Need An Antidote to Stress or Suffering.
Since then, it’s grown to include over 110 books, speeches, songs, films, and other inspiring material, from Terry Gross interviews to Nobel Prize speeches.
Read on and enjoy!
1 Banker to the Poor, Muhammad Yunus — the autobiography of the iconic Grameen Bank founder. Required reading for all aspiring entrepreneurs with a social conscience. This book inspired me to start Samasource…
1.1 Give Work, by…me :) — an autobiographical account of my personal struggle to found Samasource, now Africa’s largest AI company, as a social enterprise, and how we expanded the give work concept to launch Samaschool and LXMI. It includes helpful tips and anecdotes, and makes the convincing argument that if I managed to build a social venture as a clueless twenty-something, you can too.
2 Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson — a vivid memoir by America’s foremost criminal justice reformer, told through the lens of death-row inmates and juvenile prisoners. Gripping and memorable, not least because Stephenson is a gay black man living in Alabama.
3 One Day All Children, by Wendy Kopp — describes the founding of Teach for America, one of America’s most successful nonprofits
4 Bearing the Cross, by David Garrow — a meticulously researched biography of MLK during the era of the freedom marches.
5 Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder — documents the life and work of Paul Farmer, the world’s strongest advocate for first-class healthcare for poor people.
6 Building Social Business, Muhammad Yunus — a “how-to” guide to building a social venture, with a strong foundation in moral philosophy
7 Dead Man Walking, by Helen Prejean — the memoir that inspired the movie about a Catholic nun from New Orleans who fights the death penalty and inhumane prison conditions in the Deep South.
8 The Last Hunger Season, a chronicle of Andrew Youn’s work with the One Acre Fund, a highly effective organization that fights rural poverty for smallholder farmers who missed out on the Green Revolution.
9 Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. This isn’t strictly about social entrepreneurship but rather describes the global epidemic of violence against women, and the efforts of many social entrepreneurs to address it.
10 How to Change the World, by David Bornstein. Hailed as “the bible for social entrepreneurship.” Bornstein visited by consulting firm in 2006 and I was taken with his ideas. Two years later, I quit and started Sama. Let that be a warning to those of you who buy his book!
Talks, speeches, art
11 Bryan Stevenson’s TED talk — a good summary of key points and stories in Just Mercy, packaged in Stephenson’s warm, Southern style. You should still read the book.
12 Muhammad Yunus’s Nobel Prize Speech — Yunus is the godfather of social entrepreneurship, having built Grameen from scratch and provided a template for so many of us. This speech underscores what he writes in his books.
13 Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Nobel Prize Speech — this is where MLK delivered his famous “three meals a day” line, which I use as a baseline how all human beings should live.
Social and Environmental Justice, Economics, and History
14 Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo — this chronicle of life in a Mumbai slum reads like a telenovela. Boo, winner of a Pulitzer for her reporting on American poverty, will be remembered as our generation’s Upton Sinclair. If you read nothing else on this list, read this book.
14.1 Voices in the Ocean, by Susan Casey — warning: this book will throw you into a violent rage over the state of marine mammal protection worldwide (especially when you learn how dolphins have names for each other), which is why it’s essential reading.
15 Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer — a modern, very readable version of Animal Liberation, Peter Singer’s classic work from the 1970s. Foer’s book familiarizes us with the suffering of 50B farm animals, links our eating habits to global warming, and makes it impossible to look at a piece of pork without wanting to throw up.
15.1 The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben — a mind-blowing account of how trees in native forests communicate, share resources, and exhibit a form of consciousness that scientists like Wohlleben have just started understanding.
15.2 Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson — the woman who sparked the modern environmental movement warned against the dangers of spewing DDT into the environment before we understood the consequences. She was mocked by many scientists at the time, but today Carson’s work is the ultimate example of speaking truth to power. A must-read for anyone who wants to change the world for the better.
16 Poor Economics, by Abhijit Bannerjee and Esther Duflo. Two MIT development economists transform the way we think about aid and argue that we should apply the same kind of scrutiny to development interventions as we do to clinical drug testing.
17 We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, by Philip Gourevitch — an overview of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the factors that led neighbors and families to turn on each other.
18 King Leopold’s Ghost, by Adam Hochschild. Countless people have told me over the years “Africa is to blame for its own problems.” This book, which chronicles the despotic acts of Belgium’s King Leopold in the Congo (responsible for the deaths of at least 5 million Congolese people), makes plain the barbarism of colonialism in Africa’s past.
19 Savage Inequalities, by Jonathan Kozol — a classic text on the disparities in America’s public schools. This was the first book I ever read in the social justice genre, and the reason I started doing community service in high school.
20 Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, by Barbara Eirenreich. To better understand how the US economy is shifting from the perspective of low-wage workers, read this. It’s a startling and incredible work of journalism by a powerful woman writer.
21 A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn. The classic history book that reexamines American history from the perspective of those who lost out, rather than those who triumphed. A good start for understanding social problems of today.
22 Workers, by Sebastiao Salgado. This Brazilian photographer first picked up a camera at age 30, after he’d been in grad school. His work covers displaced people and low-wage workers around the world.
23 Disgrace, by JM Coetzee. This fictional account of a crime in South Africa helps outsiders understand the brutality of apartheid. Coetzee is dark. Be prepared.
23.1 The Tribals of India, by Sunil Janah. Sunil was my great-uncle and a renowned documentary photographer in India, known for covering the Bengal famine and Indian independence movement, as well as the lives of marginalized people. His early work is mesmerizing, especially as one of the few non-white photographers covering India at the time.
Films, Music, Art, Etc.
24 Waiting for Superman. A film about US educational inequity and the movement to create high-quality schools around the country.
25 Guernica, Pablo Picasso- not really about social justice, but about what happens when war tears through a community.
26 Blackfish (the movie) and Beneath the Surface, John Hargrove. A former Sea World trainer details abuses against animals and poses broader questions about how our economic system shapes our treatment of the environment and animals.
27 Fed Up. A film narrated by Katie Couric about the epidemic of obesity in the US, and how it’s linked to food policy and profit-seeking on the part of major agriculture companies.
28 “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holliday. This recording gives me chills every time I hear it. It’s a reminder that terrorism in the United States has its roots in violence against African Americans.
29 “Mr. Wendell” — other social justice song, this one a rap by Arrested Development.
30 A Walk to Beautiful. A film about fistula, a birth injury that affects millions of women globally who can’t afford decent medical care, and a women’s clinic that treats the condition in Ethopia.
30.1 Enlightened, a TV series with Laura Dern. If you binge-watch one thing this season, make it this show, about a quirky whistleblower’s quest to enlighten her employer and colleagues. It’s poignant and funny and cathartic for anyone who does social justice work.
Moral Philosophy and Faith
31 The Life You Can Save, Peter Singer. Singer is a moral philosopher whose current work — on how even small donations can make a life-saving difference — inspires us all to give with confidence.
32 A Theory of Justice, John Rawls. The seminal book on justice and how it impacts policy (or should) — if you didn’t read it in college, it’s not too late.
33 World Poverty and Human Rights, Thomas Pogge. A more nuanced look at why we have a moral duty to end global poverty. Pogge was Rawls’ graduate student at Harvard and a mentor of mine.
34 Status Anxiety, by Alain de Botton — He is not a philosopher on the level of Rawls or Kant, but Alain de Botton writes relevant and timely books on the challenges of our day. Worth a read when stress gets you down.
35 Good Work, by EF Shumacher. The author of Small is Beautiful also wrote this little-known and out of print book about the biggest challenge of our time, the “Moron Shortage.” Read the book to understand what he means by this, and why it matters in the age of abundance.
36 Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium — my favorite lines: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
37 Dorothy Day: Selected Writings. Dorothy Day was a journalist and social activist who later became a nun. Like Thomas Merton, she was passionate about social justice and used her faith to advocate for better policies for workers and the poor. Pope Francis and many other liberation theologists draw inspiration from Dorothy Day.
Talks, speeches, art, &etc.
38 “The Danger of a Single Story” — Chimemanda Adichie Ngozi is a Nigerian writer. Her talk at TEDGlobal is about stereotypes and the peril of allowing a few bits of information to silo someone else into a category. A beautiful speech.
39 Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage — I almost counted Shackleton as a social entrepreneur because he pursued crossing the South Pole as a benefit to the public at large without concern for personal gain. This is a gripping book recommended by Howard Schultz.
39.1 Measure What Matters, by John Doerr — Want to know how to set goals in your personal or professional life? This book is a brilliant account of a system called Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) transformed teams at Intel, Google, and the Gates Foundation to achieve extraordinary things.
39.2 Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight — the utterly unbelievable journey of Nike’s founder, an Oregon track star who started distributing Onitsuka Tigers from Japan before founding the world’s most iconic shoe brand.
39.3 Blitzscaling, by Reid Hoffman — While I don’t agree with every point in the book (blitzscaling fast fashion has had disastrous consequences), Hoffman’s description of Silicon Valley scaling methods is essential reading for entrepreneurs building conscious brands. His point: we’ve got to take over the world faster than the bad guys.
40 Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, by Walter Isaacson. I especially like Franklin’s values, which he posted in his study, and learning about the habits that made this practical early American a hero. My only critique of this book is that it doesn’t cover enough of Isaacson’s flaws, such as his womanizing during the years he was in Paris.
41 A First-Rate Madness, by Nassir Ghaemi. Lest you think you are the only crazy one, read this book, which chronicles leaders who are on the bipolar spectrum and discusses ways they’ve harnessed their unique brains to both good and evil ends (crazy fact: Hitler shot himself up with amphetamines in increasing doses as WWII escalated. Some suspect this drove him to the heinous crimes of the holocaust.)
42 Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes. Though Rhimes, the creator of hit TV shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, is sometimes over the top (her production company, for example, is called Shondaland), she’s hilarious, daring, and lovable. She describes her career ascent, having three kids on her own, and the BS underneath “having it all.” I love her message to women.
43 Bossypants, by Tina Fey. Another feminist figure in entertainment, and arguably less feared than Rhimes, Fey describes her career in TV and film.
44 This Child Will Be Great, by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Africa’s first woman president discusses her life and struggles running Liberia.
45 Joy, Inc, by Richard Sheridan. Software engineer and founder of Menlo Innovations, Sheridan describes how he built a workplace that fills his employees with joy. Recommended by my colleague Jason Rogers, who worked for Sheridan.
46 Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. Yes, she’s been raked over the coals this year, but Sheryl’s first book is a powerful one (I like her second, Option B, even more for its vulnerability). A mentor to many women in the Valley, and millions more through her book, Sandberg talks about how women can claim their rightful positions as leaders in every aspect of life.
47 The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz. I loved reading this book because Horowitz doesn’t glorify or glamorize entrepreneurship. He describes his real struggle to grow a startup and what happens next.
48 Rubies in the Orchard, by Lynda Resnick. Founder of POM Wonderful and FIJI Water describes her creative vision and how she and her husband built several multi-million dollar businesses in unexpected categories.
49 Lincoln’s Melancholy, by Joshua Wolf Shenk. One of our nation’s greatest presidents suffered from severe episodes of depression. This book describes how Lincoln channeled his moods for the good of the country.
50 Queen Idia Hip Mask, by an unknown royal artist from the Kingdom of Benin (present-day Nigeria). Idia was a legendary queen mother from Benin, a West African empire, who held back Portuguese invaders and was known as a strong warrior. As an undergrad, I studied the debate over the repatriation of these two identical hip masks from the British Museum and The Met, where they are housed permanently.
51 The MLK Memorial in Yerba Buena Gardens, tied with Clarion Alley for my favorite place in San Francisco. This memorial brings MLK’s words to life behind a powerful waterfall. I came here before a speech in 2010 and recorded my favorite quote, from MLK’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.” I still think that’s the benchmark for human progress.
Your Brain: Understanding and Protecting It
The next real frontier is within our minds. I’ve learned a ton about my brain and about techniques for caring for it better in the last few years, as Sama and Laxmi have grown and as I’ve had to deal with more challenging situations at work and at home. From meditation to medication, these books help you understand how your most important organ functions and what to do to keep it working optimally.
52 How to Meditate, by Lawrence LeShan. The fastest way to figure out how to meditate and start a daily practice. I was gifted this book in 2013, and it changed my life.
53 Consciousness Explained, by Daniel Dennett. Dennett, who happens to look like Santa Claus, is one of our great philosophers. He presents various analyses of consciousness, and dispels myths about the brain’s functioning using rational arguments instead of neuroscience. It’s a long read, but fascinating.
54 Phantoms in the Brain, by VS Ramachandran. VS Ramachandran is famous for figuring out how to fix “phantom limbs” (amputated limbs that the brain believes are still present, a source of anguish for afflicted people) using mirror boxes, essentially tricking the brain into thinking that limbs which were destroyed in accidents have re-appeared.
55 An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Redfield Jamison. Jamison explores bi-polar disorder as a brilliant doctor and writer who struggles with the disease herself. She creates a portrait of manic depression that highlights the gifts that come along with the costs.
56 The Noon-Day Demon, by Andrew Solomon. This is one of my favorite books of all time — Solomon, like Kay Jamison, suffers from depression and describes his mental suffering as only a gifted writer can. Solomon’s father was a pharmaceutical executive who developed early anti-depressants, and Solomon writes about the importance of drug therapy as few other writers can, speaking from experience. A must-read.
57 Wise Heart, by Jack Kornfield. A leading teacher of Buddhism in the United States (it’s interesting that so many American Buddhists are Jewish — a testament to that faith’s open-mindedness), Kornfield helps the average person understand the key tenet’s of one of the world’s oldest and most profound religions. Buddhism isn’t really a religion; it’s a way of life and a framework for thinking that has incredible benefits for the brain and for interpersonal relationships.
58 Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Ever wonder how great performers get “in the zone,” or why some people seem to derive so much joy from their work? Flow describes the optimal brain state for producing great work, and describes how to create the right conditions for Flow in your mind.
59 Karma and Chaos, by Paul Fleischman. Essays on Vipassana, a Buddhist mediation technique descended from Buddha’s original teachings. Fleischman describes the benefits of daily practice in a series of compelling essays, and links Buddhism with contemporary neuroscience.
60 On Intelligence, by Jeff Hawkins. A book about neuroscience and computing by the developer of the Palm Pilot.
61 The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge. This book made a huge impression on me — Doidge is a science journalist who interviewed top neuroscientists to understand how the brain can change and how we can keep our brains plastic as we age (best strategy: dance!). It’s full of interesting quotes and helpful tips to avoid getting stuck in a mental rut.
62 Incognito, by David Eagleman. The most brilliant neuroscientist of our generation writes about the profound effects of the subconscious on our behavior.
63 Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari. Harari describes why so many customs and traditions are the result of random coincidences in human history, how many of our ideas about race and genetics are dead wrong, and questions key assumptions about our brains and our future. A modern update to Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel.
63.1 When The Body Says No, by Gabor Mate — Mate, a Canadian physician, explores the mind-body connection and the many ways in which stress and trauma are linked to chronic illness. This book is a powerful reminder to treat our mental health seriously, and to question the standard operating model of Western medicine.
64 Interview of Fenton Johnson on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Fenton Johnson is a monk from an abbey in Kentucky where Thomas Merton studied, and he talks to Terry Gross about the joys of living and being alone. This interview was a jolt of fresh thinking about solitude and family that’s worth a listen.
65 David Eagleman TED talk — Eagleman describes a brilliant invention from his lab, a vest that lets deaf people decode auditory inputs using a different method than the eardrums and the cochlear nerve. The vest is genius, and it represents what I think is the future: assisted intelligence (human+artificial).
Fiction and memoir expand the mind. This section contains some of my favorite novels, short story collections, and memoirs. Perfect for Sunday afternoons or long flights.
66 West With the Night, Beryl Markham. Hailed as one of the best memoirs Hemingway ever read, WWTN is my favorite book. Markham was the first aviatrix (love that word) in East Africa, and she set a record flying west over the Atlantic in 1936, in the early days of aviation. Her memoir is full of gorgeous images of Africa, Los Angeles (her second home), and horses, her second love.
67 Not that Kind of Girl, by Lena Dunham. Dunham is vulgar, somewhat annoying, and self-important. But so is every male comedian, and she’s funnier and a better writer. This book made me snort on the plane and vow to be more self-confident. If you learn anything from Lena, it’s to be yourself with no regrets.
68 Storyteller, by Donald Sturrock. Roald Dahl was a legend to my nine-year-old self, and he retook his throne after I read this authorized biography. Dahl was larger-than-life (literally, he was 6’5”) in every way, and this story captures his genius.
69 Wildflower, by Mark Seal. A book about the life of Joan Root, a celebrated wildlife filmmaker in Kenya (and a woman of the land, much like Beryl Markham). This book describes Joan’s later years as a conservationist in Lake Naivasha, and her struggle to live alone after a devastating divorce.
70 Margaret Bourke-White, by Vicki Golderg. Bourke-White was a close friend of my great-uncle Sunil Janah’s, and a legend. At age 29, her photograph of industrial America took the cover of LIFE Magazine. She was known for dangling from rooftops and scaffolding to get a good shot, and never settled for a boring married life.
71 Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There is no better love story, and no better chronicler of love than Marquez. This book, set in Colombia, follows a couple whose loves spans nearly a century. It’s written in the magical realism style that Marquez popularized. Curl up on a hot summer day and read this.
72 Tales of the Unexpected, by Roald Dahl. Dahl’s genius was writing for children in a way that didn’t patronize. He does the same for adults — his short stories are a great pleasure to read and re-read.
73 A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. Tragically discovered and published posthumously, this book dazzles with its funny recounting of the life of an ubergeek in New Orleans.
74 Mating, by Norman Rush. This novel relies on Rush’s time working for the Peace Corps in Southern Africa, telling the story of an eccentric academic with a grand plan for social welfare among the poor in Botswana, and the woman who loves him.
75 A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain. Hilarious account of time travel, and funnier than Back to the Future.
76 In Persuasion Nation, by George Saunders. How do you describe George Saunders? He’s a funny weirdo who makes you see everything a bit differently.
77 “The Nose,” by Nikolai Gogol. An odd short story about the life of a man’s nose after it leaves his face.
Music, film, art, etc.
78 “Vilambit — Teental,” by Zakir Hussain (from the album Ustad: Zakir Hussain, released in 2015). Considered a prodigy, Hussain is a prolific tabla (Indian drum) player. Watching videos of him play, his hands moving so fast that they blur above the surface of the tabla, mesmerizes. This is a classical piece of Indian music played with the violin, including improvisations by Hussain. Listen to the non-YouTube version to appreciate the music even more.
79 Oval With Points, Henry Moore. The most perfect sculpture by one of the most esteemed British artists, who worked as a steelworker before becoming a sculptor.
80 Orfeu Negro, a classic remake of the Orpheus story set in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s. The score, written by Vinicius de Moraes and played by Antonio Carlos Jobim, is one of the great works of modern music and a must-listen for anyone who loves MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira — Brazilian music).
81 Muhammad Ali: The Greatest, by William Klein. The best documentary about Ali, by a French photographer. The entire film is an exquisite moving picture.
82 “Fern,” by Zoe Keating. Keating is a master of the cello, and her original compositions do justice to the drama and expressiveness of the instrument.
83 “Passacaglia,” by Joshua Roman and Robert Gupta. An extraordinary duet for cello and violin comes to life on the TED stage. GENIUS. Makes me cry.
84 Juana Molina (anything, but especially the song “Salvese Quien Pueda”) — an Argentine comedian, Molina learned the guitar in her 40s and re-emerged as a singer and musician. Her songs are eccentric and playful — think Bjork, but happier.
85 “I’ll Take Talullah,” tap dance with Eleanor Powell and Buddy Rich from the 1942 film Ship’s Ahoy. Eleanor Powell was the finest tap dancer of the 40s and 50s — if you don’t believe me, watch this clip, especially the part at the end of the dance where she plays her tap shoes against the drums, and juggles drumsticks with the drummer. It’s unbelievable.
86 Rework, by Jason Fried and DHH. Authored by the founders of Basecamp and parent company 37signals, Rework inspires readers to think differently about being productive. Learn to avoid meetings, use laziness to your advantage, and build a small, profitable business instead of a giant, bloated startup. Check out “Reconsider,” an article by DHH on the same topic.
86.1 The Minimalist Baker — an extraordinary free collection of vegan recipes that will knock your socks off. This website saved me in the months after a series of surgeries last year, and it’s extremely well-designed and written.
87 The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo. This has become a cult favorite among decorators and organizers, and messy slobs like me. Reading the book gave me a new appreciation for the joy of a clutter-free life and home, and for something even more important: the peace of mind that comes from owning less stuff. _____ isn’t about decorating. It’s a life philosophy.
88 The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. I heard about this book in Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography and bought it immediately. Cameron describes several habits that spur creativity; some of them, like the “artist’s date” and morning pages, have changed my life.
89 Eat to Live, by Joel Fuhrman. Want to create a better world, lose weight, and feel incredible? Stop eating animal products, and start loading up on green vegetables. This is the premise of Eat to Live, the best book I’ve read on nutrition and health. Fuhrman’s work is backed by science and, though he doesn’t discuss it, moral philosophy — I believe factory farming will one day be regarded as one of the great evils of human civilization, alongside slavery and apartheid.
91 Spinster, by Kate Bollick. After her Atlantic piece “What, Me Married?” went gangbusters, Bollick followed up with a book about reclaiming the term “Spinster” to refer to women who follow their hearts and dreams, finding fulfillment in themselves rather than in their men. All women, regardless of their marital or relationship status, need to read this. She also chronicles the fascinating lives of women like Edna St. Vincent Millay and Edith Wharton, iconic Spinsters.
92 The Oh She Glows Cookbook, by Angela Liddon. Liddon, who had an eating disorder, discovered vegan cooking and changed her life. I love this book for its simple, satisfying recipes.
93 How to Be An Adult in Relationships, by David Richo. A great reminder for all the important relationships in your life, even if they’re going well. I always regret not re-reading this annually.
94 Getting Things Done, by David Allen. As a chronically messy and disorganized person, sometimes I re-read this classic book on personal organization to train my brain to think differently. Mostly, I don’t, but I think it’s a good idea to try.
95 Difficult Conversations, by Douglas Stone. This book helped me figure out how to use language more effectively. Most of the time, what I say isn’t the problem, it’s how I say it. Worth reading to be a better negotiator, friend, manager, and lover.
96 How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend, by The Monks of New Skete. So a bunch of monks who train German Shepherds got together and wrote their best practices in a book. I grew up with big dogs, fostered one for part of 2014–15, and learned a ton about our relationship with canines from reading this. Even if you don’t have a dog, it’s interesting to understand what people who spend their lives with animals have to say about them.
96.1 Blue Mind, by Wallace J. Nichols — the incredible science behind our connection to water, from biological phenomena like the Mammalian Dive Reflex (did you know that exposing your body to water can slow your heart rate, enabling you to dive longer?). Changed my life in 2018.
When You Need an Antidote to Sadness or Suffering
97 The Gods Must Be Crazy, by Jamie Uys. If you’ve never seen this, please stop what you’re doing and watch it right now. This movie might be perceived as a little post-colonial, but the parts featuring tribesmen of Botswana are so funny they are permanently etched in my brain.
98 The Upanishads. Suffering is temporary. So is every other part of your life, if you believe in the tenets of Hinduism or Buddhism. The Upanishads are full of wisdom for dealing with modern suffering, which, it turns out, is exactly the same kind of suffering our ancestors dealt with.
99 Trombone Shorty. The New Orleans-based trombone virtuoso makes my heart sing. His concert at Coachella in 2014 was one of the best live performances I’ve seen in my life — he trombone’d it up, switched to the drums, and sang. Also: he’s super good looking.
100 “Un Canto A Mi Tierra,” Quantic. An upbeat dance track that always brightens my mood.
101 “Happy,” Pharrell’s epic 24-hour music video featuring people dancing in the streets. If only more of real life were like this video.
102 GOAT — The Greatest of All Time. Photographs of Muhammad Ali in a limited-edition Taschen book. One of the best presents I’ve received. Ali’s genius was his dancing, the way he moved in the ring when he wasn’t hitting or being hit, which is evident in many of the giant stills in this book.
103 Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, The Solitude of Latin America. My favorite lines: “In spite of this, to oppression, plundering and abandonment, we respond with life. Neither floods nor plagues, famines nor cataclysms, nor even the eternal wars of century upon century, have been able to subdue the persistent advantage of life over death.”
104 The Life of Brian. Monty Python’s masterpiece never fails to make my sides hurt. To be watched whenever the blues hit.
105 FDR’s 1933 inauguration speech.”Our greatest primary task is to put people to work.” Wise words then, and now.
106 “I Have a Dream,” the original version. MLK features often in this list, and with good reason: he is undoubtedly the best speaker of all time, trained in the church. Every word creates shivers in the spines of his listeners, and turns a cold heart warm.
107 Sean and John tap dancing to Beyonce. Sean and John are rhythm tappers in the Savion Glover tradition. They tap to pop songs on slivers of plywood, and their feet move as fast as Zakir Hussein’s hands on the tabla — faster than the camera can capture.
108 Homeless by the Kenyan Boys Choir. This entire Paul Simon album is genius, but this song, which I once played on loop during a backpacking trip in Mozambique and Malawi, reminds me of adventure and giant moonlit expanses in Southern Africa. The Kenyan Boys Choir rendition is gorgeous, complete with sunsets over the Maasai Mara.