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Continued analysis of the forces around us inspire great leaders and workers to influence change. Even in the technology age, there’s no better way to enhance one’s knowledge base than through the abundant resource of old-fashioned books. These writers will revolutionize the way you view the world. Now all you have to do is open a book or device and get thinking. (For more, see Best Books for Entrepreneurs.)

“Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Daniel Kahneman

Nobel Prize winner, economist, psychologist, and best-selling author, Daniel Kahneman explains the concept of two brains running at once. He collected research on the topic with his long-time friend and colleague, the late Amos Tversky. Kahneman argues that the central theme of human irrationality serves as a foundation for a new school of thought that transcends economics. Data supports the concept of “cognitive biases” or biases that pervert our outlook and decision-making. Cognitive biases also discredit the idea that humans are total utility maximizers. This fascinating book can help you evaluate your cognitive biases and determine whether you are making decisions based off of natural irrationality or conscious reasoning. 

“What The Dog Saw: And Other Adventures,” Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is well known for uncovering hidden truths and stories naked to the human eye. “What The Dog Saw” is a compilation of Gladwell’s best works for the New York Times during the period in which his other famous works—“The Tipping Point,” “Blink” and “Outliers”—were published. He notes in the preface, "Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. It succeeds or fails on the strength of its capacity to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else's head." From spaghetti sauce to hair dye and birth control, Gladwell exposes the extraordinary in the ordinary.

“Mindful Work: How Meditation Is Changing Business From the Inside Out,” David Gelles

New York Times reporter David Gelles explores the growing demand for Zen practices in the workplace. Globalization has helped increase the popularity of meditation, from traditional Eastern traditions to mindfulness through mobile meditation apps. Gelles documents the history of meditation and its movement to the West. He illustrates how recent advances in neuroscience have helped it gain traction and describes how a new wave of thinking permeates corporate culture worldwide. From case studies inside Google and Fortune 500 companies, readers will be fascinated by a sea change that may seem like an alternative universe to those working outside Silicon Valley. (For more, see The Rise of the Gig Economy.)

“Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets,” Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Taleb had a successful career as a hedge fund manager, later focusing his time as a statistician, risk analyst, mathematician and author. “Fooled By Randomness” is one of Taleb’s works, including “The Black Swan,” “Antifragile” and “The Bed of Procrustes.” It has been translated into 36 languages and was named by Fortune magazine as one of the smartest books of all time. The book cover advertises Gladwell dubbing Taleb “Wall Street’s principal dissident. [‘Fooled by Randomness’] is to conventional Wall Street approximately what Martin Luther’s ninety-nine theses were to the Catholic Church.” By exposing human fallibility, Taleb opens eyes to the fact that pure luck often shapes outcomes more than we believe.

“The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: Risk-taking, Gut Feeling and the Biology of Boom and Bust,” John M. Coates

Coates left a job in finance in New York City for the field of neuroscience research. As a lead expert in “the biology of risk,” Coates now sits as a senior research fellow in neuroscience and finance at the University of Cambridge. In this book, he explores the concept of the “gut feeling,” which humans often rely on. Coates was curious about how traders often act arrogantly with irrational exuberance after big wins and alternatively shy and cautious after a loss. In this scientific, engaging book, he discusses experiments that translate to all aspects of our lives. After reading it, you’ll have a greater understanding of your own biology and why those around you make the decisions that they do. In the context of booms, financial crisis and larger global events, it’s wise to understand the forces that impact decision making.

The Bottom Line

These groundbreaking books gain popularity because they disrupt the way we think, just as companies succeed because they are market disrupters. Continued learning is essential to personal development and for human connection. Leaders need to evaluate their management styles and their business purposes, along with the needs and wants of employees. Regardless of personal circumstances—whether it’s preparing for an exam or wedding, weighing a financial matter, celebrating a job promotion, or grieving a divorce—we all benefit from these thought-provoking pieces that seek to transform the way we think.

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