Steven Kotler: The Five Best Books on Ultimate Human Performance

Steven Kotler is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning journalist, and cofounder and director of research for the Flow Genome Project. His latest book is “The Rise of Superman.”

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Book Lists

Five Books Bill Gates Recommended to the TED Audience This Year

The TED lecture series frequently asks TEDsters to recommend books. This year, the organizers of TED asked former chief executive and chairman of Microsoft Bill Gates to recommend five books.

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

1The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker’s carefully researched study stands out as one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Pinker paints a remarkable picture showing that the world has evolved over time to be a far less violent place than before. It offers a fresh perspective on how to achieve positive outcomes in the world. A thoroughly worthwhile read.

Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding–And How We Can Improve the World Even More

2Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding–And How We Can Improve the World Even More by Charles Kenny

I know from personal experience that stepping into the public square to announce that foreign aid is important and effective can be lonely work. Charles Kenny’s elegant book on the impact of aid carefully documents how the quality of life—even in the world’s poorest countries—has improved dramatically over the past several decades. With reams of solid data to support his case, he argues that governments and aid agencies have played an important role in this progress.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity

3Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity by Katherine Boo

Katherine Boo spent three years getting to know the people of Annawadi, a slum of about 3,000 people on the edge of a sewage-filled lake in India’s largest city. Her book is a poignant reminder of how much more work needs to be done to address the inequities in the world. But it’s also an uplifting story of people striving to make a life for themselves, sacrificing for their families, and in their own way, being innovative and entrepreneurial in creating a vibrant local economy.

The Man Who Fed the World

4The Man Who Fed the World by Leon Hesser

Norm Borlaug is one of my heroes—and Leon Hesser’s biography is a fascinating account of Borlaug’s life and accomplishments. This is a story of genius, self-sacrifice, and determination. Borlaug was a remarkable scientist and humanitarian whose work in agriculture is rightfully credited with saving the lives of over a billion people.

Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate

5Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate by Vaclav Smil

Vaclav Smil is probably my favorite living author. If you care about energy issues, I recommend this volume, though its unvarnished look at the realities of energy use and infrastructure may be disconcerting to anyone who thinks solving our energy problems will be easy. Smil provides a rational framework for evaluating energy promises and important lessons to keep in mind if we’re to avert the looming climate crisis.

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