Best Reads of 2019

Jānis Lanka
4 min readJan 2, 2020

2019 is over, and I was lucky enough to be able to achieve one of my goals — to read 20 books! Okay, fine, I listened to some of them on audiobook. But still, the goal was met. The range of topics this year was pretty wide — from philosophy and theology to entrepreneurship and science. However, when I reviewed all of them and looked for ones I would highly recommend, the common theme of behavioral (economics) stood out. So, here are the top three books that I loved in 2019 and I highly recommend that you read.

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It

by Chris Voss

“Negotiation is not an act of battle; it’s a process of discovery. The goal is to uncover as much information as possible.”

There’s something about hostage negotiations that sparks my interest, so much so that I’ve even looked at how to take a course on that very subject. Unfortunately, that course I found had too many prerequisites and was strictly meant for law enforcement. And since I don’t know any hostage negotiator personally, I had to take a trip to the library and check out some books on the topic. But this book is, hands down, one of the best out there when it comes to negotiations.

Author Chris Voss has increasingly come up with various conversations, and unlike some other recently popular authors, everyone only has good things to say about him and his work. This guy writes extremely well, conveys his thoughts and ideas simply and clearly, and he teaches content that has been rigorously field-tested — by the FBI! One of my friends recently told me that a week before his job interview he read this book and used the lessons within it to get a $10k increase is his salary. If there is any better review for that book, this is it!

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics

by Richard H. Thaler

“Roughly speaking, losses hurt about twice as much as gains make you feel good.”

Mix human psychology with incentives and market behavior, and you’ll get some interesting insights into how we function both as individuals and as collective groups. Behavioral economics is a deeply fascinating topic, at least for me — perhaps it’s the rational approach to understanding our human mind that attracts me to this book?

The author is clearly very knowledgeable about this particular topic. He was a recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 2017 for essentially changing how economics was perceived for the past century by showing that the central agents in the economy are humans, but that they are not at all rational, predictable, etc. This book has offered great insights into the history of economics, as well as the author’s own journey in changing the field and giving us better tools to understanding this frustrating part of the world: humans and their irrational behaviour.

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

by Barry Schwartz

“Unfortunately, the proliferation of choice in our lives robs us of the opportunity to decide for ourselves just how important any given decision is.”

We have so many options when it comes to… well, everything! And this is especially true in Western countries. Grocery stores are crammed with dozens of options for chocolates, nuts, milk, you name it. We are also burdened with an abundance of choice in or dating life. Tinder is packed with hundreds of potential dates all within a 10km radius. Then there’s TV, which is loaded with a continuously growing list of great shows to watch. The word “choice” and it’s possible synonyms such as personalized, customized, individual, and others seem to define the last decade.

What I love about this book is how the author explores this topic of choice and happiness from various perspectives and clearly illustrates how we are all, in fact, screwed. We love choice, and there is no way we will intentionally reduce our options. And yet, we also know that having all those options make us less happy. So, what are we to do? How do we escape this catch-22?

Reading about human behavior can be a fascinating endeavour. Is it because it’s just so strange and unpredictable? Whatever the reason, a lot of books have been written covering this topic, but all the above-mentioned books are a must-read for anyone who deals with people.

Before I’m off to the next set of 20 books for 2020 (uh… those “20s” look fun), I first need to weed out the list on my Goodreads. If you have any recommendations on books that should be added on that list, feel free to send them my way!

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Jānis Lanka

Building a better internet, one digital brick at a time.