The Best Books I Read in 2018


For all the ups and downs of 2018, I’ll never be able to repay the 2017 version of myself for making more time for books (often on long flights) and less time for outrageous clickbait.

If 2019 leads you to do the same, here are some fantastic places to start:

Factfullness – Hans Rosling. The premise (and the conclusion) of this book is beautiful — The world is amazing, and no one knows it. It was refreshing to find a book that provided hope in a truly turbulent media age, but more importantly – was rooted in good statistics and truth. The opening chapters flip your assumptions about first, second, and third-world countries on their head, and you’d be hard-pressed to look at the world the same way you did yesterday.

Like Brothers – Mark & Jay Duplass. When you have a family that’s incredibly close and you want to spend more than an acceptable amount of time together, it feels a lot like an outlier in today’s world. I imagine that if you spend extended periods of time with my family, it would be tough for people on the outside to immediately grasp. So when I was halfway through and pored over email threads of Mark to Jay to each other, it felt as if I was personally validated. These exchanges are beautiful, but the highlights are the “let’s write stories about strangers we see in airports” chapters that simultaneously gave me a new hobby. It’s light, authentic, and you’ll finish it in two days.

Vanishing New York – Jeremiah Moss wrote a book that people have strong feelings about. The good news – and this is coming from someone who defends the five boroughs as if they were an abusive ex who will “be better this time” – that 100% of Moss’ detractors are wrong.

If you’ve spoken to me for more than five minutes over the past 6 months, you can skip to the next book. Because I’ve likely talked your ear off about New York’s loss of “place” and community due to the preschool equivalent of urban planning. I’m drinking Moss’ Kool-Aid, if for no other reason than the fifteen 7-11’s, Duane Reade’s, and Walgreen’s that muscled out actual spaces of value sell four packets for a dollar.

It’s clear that his love for America’s finest city is rooted in preservation rather than protectionism. The NIMBYism that spurs from the latter is what’s killing San Francisco, yet Moss’ emotional journey into New York and the heartache of trading CBGB’s for Targets shows his concern about trading culturally enriching experiences for glass monstrosities that barely count as architecture. The writing crackles, and Moss’ ability to frame New York’s best self transcends his blog.

The Art of Gathering. Priya Parker. While Moss laments the destruction of the public space and the feeling of belonging in a smarter era in architecture, Priya shows why the “who” and the “where” matters. Think of the best party you’ve ever been to – one that feels so memorable you can recall what it smelled like and everyone who was there – and she explains why there are spoken and unspoken rules that made that happen. She uses this as a metaphor for every gathering you’ve ever been to (work meetings, weddings, parties, dinners), what made them amazing, and what (more often than not) made them suck.

The Hacking of the American Mind / Irresisistible. Robert Lusting / Adam Alter. I’m merging both of these books into one, because Lusting concentrates more on the physical (on the dopamine receptors that our technology hijacks to keep us clicking and scrolling) and Alter begins to question whether or not these companies are remotely ethical (and gives you ways to cut down on technology while feeling more present). I’ve spent the last twelve years of my life focused on digital advertising – how to get you to click sooner so you can buy faster – and these made me be incredibly thoughtful about the ultimate experience of you (the consumer), and a better marketer for it.

Genius Foods. Max Lugavere. This book is responsible for me drinking one tablespoon of olive oil every morning and chugging green tea and water at work. I am not yet a genius, but it’s still worth a read.

Lugavere’s introduces you to how his fixation on nutrition sprouted from the love and care-taking of his mother, and is as good of a reason to start this book. His wealth of information on foods that fuel your body to longevity is rooted in love.

Work Clean. Dan Charnas. I’m going to end on this book, because it should have been obvious that a book on food would change my life forever. At some point in my career, I chose strong, action-oriented mentors who subscribed to the “Blink’ methodology of working. Or Facebook’s ‘Move fast and break things.’ It’s a great approach for shipping work, but we sort of gloss over the “break things.”

This book taught me a life skill that I can’t possibly repay Dan Charnas back for: The concept of owning mis en place in my everyday life. Deliberate and focused planning, execution, and repetition that is making me a more surgical mentor, marketer, coworker, family member, home chef, and friend to the people around me. Many things get done, but less gets broken. Most importantly, the time you spend on thoughtful work is recalled and appreciated.

About the author


Matt DeSiena's the Head of Strategy at The Winston Project, a marketing collective based in NYC. He's also spent time in senior strategy roles at Bold Move, TBWA\Chiat\Day New York, and Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness, and served on the board of the Cobble Hill Association.

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By Matt