Summer Reading List: Books on Happiness, Neuroscience, Games and More

August 9, 2012


I know just what you’re thinking: summer is just about over. The cross-country flight has been flown and the week at the beach is over. I hear ya.

But a long weekend is but a few weeks away (Labor Day) and it’s never too late to pick up some great books for the Fall (or for, gasp, the holidays).

What follows are recommendations for books I’ve read recently. I must warn you: the list contains neither the super-latest releases nor any current New York Times bestsellers. Without further ado, here’s my list of five:

1) Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

I read this book one year ago. I purchased the book expecting to hear about Tony Hsieh’s approach to delivering great customer service at Zappos. And while the book does include insights related to that, it’s scope is really much more.

Hsieh relates a compressed life story (his own) and how he sought to discover meaning and happiness. The book is filled with a series of entertaining personal anecdotes. Hsieh wraps things up by discussing the science of happiness and declares that the meaning of life is to discover it.

This is my favorite book of all time and has completely changed my outlook on life. For the better.

  1. Read my prior book review on Delivering Happiness.
  2. Check out the book at Amazon.

2) Brain Rules by John Medina

Earlier this year, Medina was the keynote presenter at a conference I attended. I couldn’t attend Medina’s session, but I knew from the related tweets that the audience found it interesting. Later, I’d bump into other attendees and Medina’s session was mentioned often.

I decided (then) to add “Brain Rules” to my reading list and it didn’t disappoint. Medina is a neuroscientist and the book helps us understand how the brain works. This understanding can help us design more effective meetings, classes, events and more.

  1. Read my prior post on how to use Brain Rules to make your next event more impactful.
  2. Check out the book at Amazon.

3) Reality Is Broken by Jane McGonigal

Coincidentally, Jane McGonigal also provided a keynote presentation at the same conference (as Medina). While I also missed McGonigal’s session, I had already read her book. McGonigal presents research from a number of scientists to explain “why games make us happy” and describes how games can be applied to solve problems at a global scale.

I liked this book so much, in fact, that I organized a digital book club in which we assembled via Google+ Hangouts to discuss portions of the book.

  1. Read my favorite quotes from the book.
  2. Check out the book at Amazon.

4) The Third Wave by Alison Thompson

Thompson’s book makes an impact right from the first page. She describes rollerblading down the street. They were the streets of New York City and she was headed south towards the World Trade Center. And it was September 11, 2001.

Thompson, who has training as a nurse, provided emergency response to victims (on the streets) and witnessed the collapse of the second tower. She volunteered day and night in the days immediately following 9/11 and returned there for weeks afterwards, lending a hand each and every day.

Thompson traveled to Sri Lanka to assist victims of a 2004 tsunami and provided relief efforts to earthquake victims in Haiti. “The Third Wave” is Thompson’s “volunteer story.”

It’s not just touching, it’s inspirational. Reading about Thompson’s selfless acts have inspired me to “do more” for the larger world around me.

  1. Check out the book at Amazon.

5) Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie

This book is the story of TOMS, a shoe company who matches “every pair of TOMS (shoes) purchased with a new pair given to a child in need.” (they now sell more than just shoes). Like “Delivering Happiness,” the book does more than just tell the story of a company’s growth.

Mycoskie provides prescriptive advice on how you (the reader) can start something that matters, yourself. With chapter headings such as “find your story,” “face your fears” and “be resourceful without resources,” Mycoskie made me think about jobs in my future – and how they ought to have a meaning larger than just “maximizing profits.”

  1. Check out the book at Amazon.


I hope you found my recommendations useful. If you end up reading any of these books, return here to leave a comment. I’d love to hear your feelings and reactions to reading them.

Book Review: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh (@Zappos)

July 30, 2011

Pictured: My hand, simulating the Facebook “Like” icon.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to the book’s listing on

Reviewed: “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose” by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, Inc.


I enjoyed reading “Delivering Happiness” more than any other book of the past five years. It’s not your typical “business book.” Rather, it includes key insights that you can apply to your own business, but it provides so much more.

It covers culture, happiness, theories of happiness, inside stories about Zappos and entertaining stories about Hsieh’s life. Rather than provide a formal review, I’ll highlight sections that I found particularly interesting.

Great Stories

In the first paragraph of Chapter 1, we find the heading “Worm Farm.” Hsieh writes that at age 9, his parents spent $33.45 “for a box of mud that was guaranteed to contain at least one hundred earthworms.”

Hsieh built a worm box and every day he’d dump a few raw egg yolks on top of the “farm,” in hopes that the worms would reproduce. After 30 days, Hsieh checked on his “crop”, only to discover that the worms were all gone. He had placed chicken wire beneath the mud, and the worms had all escaped.

According to Hsieh, “my burgeoning worm empire was officially out of business.”  A book that begins with a story about a worm farm. I was immediately hooked.

The Inside Scoop

In this era of “inbox overload,” we tend to bad-mouth email. But reading this book made me realize how powerful email can be as an archival tool. Emails capture a moment in time and are great at telling stories. Hsieh supplements his great stories by including archived emails.

Hsieh includes emails from the earliest days of Zappos, through to 2009, when Zappos joined forces with Amazon. Hsieh includes his company-wide email concerning the Amazon transaction, which was posted publicly to the Zappos blog.

In addition to email as a storytelling tool, Hsieh draws upon the extended Zappos team to tell their own stories. As an example, page 61 features “My First Shoe Show as a Zappos Employee, by Fred,” which was contributed by Fred Mossler, a member of the founding team.

The Culture Book

The Culture Book started with a simple idea from Hsieh, “We should just ask all of our employees to write a few paragraphs about what the Zappos culture means to them, and compile it all into a book.”

The Culture Book is published once a year and contributions from employees are not edited or censored. The book documents how the Zappos culture evolves over time. In addition, the process of compiling the book has the positive side effect of gaining insights into employee satisfaction. Complaints and criticism, for instance, can serve as a wake-up call on a particular issue.

If you visit the Culture Book web site, you can fill in your mailing address to receive a free copy of the book!

Risking It All to Chase a Dream

All entrepreneurs chase dreams. When they reach a critical juncture, however, some entrepreneurs cut their losses, while others risk it all and forge ahead. Hsieh and his team are obviously the latter – they were down to 2 weeks of cash and Hsieh needed to sell a loft (40 percent below the price he paid for it) to keep the company afloat.

Hsieh writes, “Even if Zappos failed, we would know that we had done everything we could to chase a dream we believed in.”

A Movement to Deliver Happiness

“Delivering Happiness” is more than a book. It’s now a movement. On the movement’s web site, you can join an online community, take a pledge, read real stories,  submit your own story and find in-person meetups to connect with other deliverers of happiness.

Related Resources

  1. Buy the Book: On Amazon
  2. The book’s web site.
  3. Delivering Happiness Movement on Twitter (@DHMovement).
  4. Delivering Happiness on Facebook.
  5. How Twitter Can Make You a Better (and Happier) Person” – article by Tony Hsieh.
  6. The Zappos blog.
  7. A page showing tweets from Zappos employees.


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