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Ideas Matter: Get Up-To-Speed On the World’s Best Nonfiction Books

Want to read the best nonfiction books around but not quite sure where to start? Here are some essential titles to add to your reading list.
by Carrie M. King | Mar 16 2020

We know how it is. There are simply too many good books in the world and you don’t have the time to leaf through them all. But when all it takes to change your life is one good idea, you can’t afford not to. So, how can you sift through the thousands of books published every year to find the insightful advice that you really need in your life?

That’s why Blinkist exists. We read through bestselling nonfiction books and deliver their key insights to you in short, memorable packs. If you feel like you want to learn something new, change how you work, rethink your approach to relationships, or just want to challenge your assumptions, here are some titles that are among the best nonfiction books in the world.

Want to read only the best nonfiction books? Look no further than this Blinkist book list:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

First published in 1989, Stephen R. Covey’s mega-hit made the late author a household name and is often listed as one of the most popular nonfiction books of all time. The book promotes the idea of achieving goals by aligning one’s personal values to universal principles such as integrity and honesty. The book has sold more than 25 million copies in 40 languages worldwide. If you want to get in on the secret to becoming more effective, why not check out the key insights on Blinkist?

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

David Allen’s classic, Getting Things Done, was first published in 2001 and became the starting point for a global productivity phenomenon. The realistic, practical approach to reaching your targets while doing fulfilling work has changed how millions of people approach their jobs, and the title was an early addition to the Blinkist library. If you’d like to hear more from the author himself, why not check out his conversation with Caitlin Schiller on Blinkist’s Simplify podcast?

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

No doubt you’ve seen this one for sale in airports the world over. That’s always where I seem to see it. This global bestseller is definitely counted among the best nonfiction books of recent years, and is the result of years of Nobel-prizewinning research by Daniel Kahneman. It covers all three phases of his career, from his early days working on cognitive bias, to his later work on happiness. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in how our minds work.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg’s book is an essential read for anyone (read: everyone) who’s tried and failed to make or break a habit. Want to make a habit of reading more, eating better, or finally want to quit smoking? This book can offer some insight on how and why we struggle with habit patterns, and what it really takes to gain control over our own. A combination of research and anecdotal evidence, the title provides easy tips for changing personal habits as well as broader organizational ones. You can also learn more about the topic from the author himself by listening to his appearance on Simplify.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

Why do you do what you do? Why do you buy a certain brand over another? What persuades you to believe one person’s argument over another’s? Influence is a fascinating look into how we’re manipulated by advertising, salespeople, and con artists. It helps you to see through common sales tactics while giving you tips on how to become more persuasive yourself. Sound good? Yeah, thought so.

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9–5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Tim Ferriss

You’ve probably heard of Tim Ferriss. If not, you won’t have to search too hard to find him. He’s got a podcast, several books, and is a frequent contributor across a variety of media outlets. The entrepreneur wrote this book after he suffered from burnout from overwork and realized he needed to change his approach to how he worked. Definitely one of the most famous nonfiction books from the entrepreneur set, it focuses on the idea of the “new rich”, i.e. people who abandon the life of a desk slave to work effectively while still appreciating the smaller moments in life.

The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less by Richard Koch

This 1997 title by Richard Koch was named one of the Best Business Books of the Twentieth Century by GQ magazine. It looks at a commonly held belief that 80% of results are generated by 20% of the effort that any of us puts in to a given task. If this is true, then what impact is this having on our lives, and how could we spend our time better? If you want to make the most of your time, don’t miss this title.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

Do you know what motivates you? Or do you struggle to get motivated at all? This engrossing title by Daniel Pink looks at the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and how companies often miss the mark when it comes to motivating their employees. If you’re a manager who wants to better motivate your team, or simply just want to gain control over your own motivation, this book should not be missed!

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers: The Story of Success is probably the most popular nonfiction book by household name, Malcolm Gladwell. The Canadian author looks at those who have achieved extraordinary levels of success across a wide variety of fields and industries. He takes a fascinating look at the many factors that play into a person’s success or lack thereof, and punctures the myth of the “self-made man”. A must-read for anyone curious about how people achieve success, and whether we really have any control over it at all!

A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen Hawking

When the author of a book is the subject of an Oscar-winning biopic and has featured in more than a couple of episodes of The Simpsons, it truly needs no introduction. Yet, no list of best nonfiction books would be complete without A Brief History of Time. First published in 1988, this seminal work made Stephen Hawking famous as one of the authorities on where our universe came from, and where it might be going. A truly cosmic read, this book is unmissable.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

Just published in 2014, Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction became quickly recognized as one of the most important books of this century, shedding light on the fact that we’re probably not waiting for the next climactic extinction event to occur — we’re most likely living through it. In summer 2017, Stanford University recommended it to incoming undergrads as one of the most important books of our era. Convinced? You should be!

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins is probably better known in pop culture for being an outspoken atheist than for his scientific work, but this 1976 publication is perhaps his most eye-opening, and even beautiful. It puts the gene at the center of evolution and uses the idea of gene “selfishness” to explain the vast variety of life on this pale blue dot we call home. Don’t forget too, that this book is the one in which Dawkins coined the term “meme.” The Internet has a lot to thank him for.

Factfulness by Hans Rosling

Bill Gates knows his onions when it comes to the best nonfiction books and it’s easy to see why Factfulness is among his favorites. Hans Rosling’s New York Times bestseller asks hard questions about the world, and uses hard facts and statistics to answer them. And his findings are rather surprising. Namely, that the world probably isn’t in as bad a state as we think!

No Logo by Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein’s book is now a household name — or at the very least, a must-read on any media studies program. It looks at branding, the misdeeds of big name brands, and examines problems perpetuated by mass consumption such as sweatshops and corporate censorship. This title is just as relevant today as when it was first published in 1999.

How to Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Since its first publication in October 1936, How To Win Friends and Influence People has made Dale Carnegie a permanent fixture of pop culture. With timeless, easily-applicable advice such as “become genuinely interested in other people”, Carnegie’s book has been on bestseller lists for generations. In fact, it’s one of the bestselling books of all time!

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

With its publication in 1990, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow helped millions of readers discover activities which tapped into what the author described as a flow state. Difficult enough to keep us engaged and easy enough to prevent discouragement, working in a flow state loosens our sense of ego and time. By gravitating towards these activities, we achieve greater passion and meaning from the work we perform.

Mindset by Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck’s book upended many people’s conception of individual psychology. One of the most influential nonfiction titles of the 21st century, Mindset has had an impact on companies ranging from start-ups to major international corporations. Dweck’s outline of fixed and growth mindsets showed it was possible to change our attitudes toward the world and achieve our goals in the face of setbacks.

Orientalism by Edward W. Said

First released in 1978, Orientalism by Edward Said called out the often patronizing notions that the West has long harbored about the East and Africa. Received western assumptions about these societies have been shaped by colonial mindsets and a lack of understanding and nuance that’s often the hallmark of imperialism. Orientalism assumes Western dominance and exaggerates difference rather than acknowledging the similarities that make us all part of the same human race. Orientalism is an enlightening, highly influential read that should definitely be in your to-be-read pile.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

When Henrietta Lacks, a poor, African-American tobacco farmer from Virginia died from cervical cancer in 1951, she had no idea that she was—or at least her cells were—soon to become immortal. This fascinating investigation by Rebecca Skloot looks at the history of Henrietta’s life and family; how her cell strand, now known as HeLa, was used by scientists to develop cures for polio and other diseases; and how black Americans have long been exploited by medical science.

So, there you have it: some of the best nonfiction books currently in the ever-expanding Blinkist library! With the current count at well over 3,000 titles, we’re constantly adding new books-in-blinks to help you stay on top of all the great nonfiction being published every day. Happy reading!

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