Sam Seely

My favorite books of 2018

Over the past year I spent a lot of time on the subway reading books. Here’s my year-end list of favorites. If you want a look at what else I read in 2018, you can check out my reading log here.

Have any recommendations or books I missed on this list? Please give me a shout in the comments section or shoot me a note.

Enjoy the list and see you in 2019.

General non-fiction

  • The Literary Churchill. My first Churchill biography. The Literary Churchill takes an interesting approach to its subject, trying to explain his life not through his actions or his policies, but through his reading material. This book will teach you about Churchill and about how what we read defines us.
  • Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. An enlightening little book on physics. Carlo Rovelli first published these seven essays as a Sunday series in his local newspaper. The result is an Italian stroll through the principles that govern our world. A great read over coffee on a weekend morning.
  • Bad Blood. You’ve already heard about this book and about how you have to read it. The movie should be fun.
  • Educated. A memoir about finding knowledge for yourself. “In retrospect, I see that this was my education, the one that would matter: the hours I spent sitting at a borrowed desk, struggling to parse narrow strands of Mormon doctrine in mimicry of a brother who’d deserted me. The skill I was learning was a crucial one, the patience to read things I could not yet understand.” This book will remind you what it is you love about learning and reading.
  • Red Notice. Probably the closest look you can get at the wave of capitalism that broke across Russia in the 1990s and the pool of corruption it left behind in its wake.
  • Barbarians at the Gate. This book details one of the all-time great bidding wars in the history of Wall Street. A fantastic piece of journalism that provides a detailed view of how deal-making actually happens in the upper echelon of buyouts.
  • How to Change Your Mind. A book about the emerging science of psychedelic-aided therapy. I didn’t love this book, but it did make me think about how our minds work and how we can strive to stay open-minded as we age. Once you start this book, you’ll find yourself bringing it up in conversation constantly.

Business non-fiction

  • 7 Powers. Operational excellence does not equal long-term sustainable value. Instead, it’s using that operational excellence to build an unassailable advantage that creates the long-term value that comes from high market share and high defensible margins. With 7 Powers, Hamilton Helmer takes the best insights from Porter’s theory of competitive strategy and turns it into a digestible reference to use during points of flux in a company’s trajectory. Highly recommended for product people.
  • The Score Takes Care of Itself. Do the little things right and the score will take care of itself. Bill Walsh’s treatise on leadership after a career in which he took the Niners to three super bowl championships.
  • The Phoenix Project. All of the groan-inducing, cringe-worthy business fiction of Eli Goldratt’s The Goal is back and better than ever in The Phoenix Project. A great, fun read for anyone working within a product organization.
  • Beyond Entrepreneurship. I watched a Reed Hastings lecture. He mentioned he tries to read the first 80 pages of this book once a year. So now I do, too. A good refresher on what great leadership looks like and the importance of setting a vision within a company.
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things. A book of “most important rules” and hip-hop epigraphs. Though tailored for the founder or CEO, The Hard Thing About Hard Things is a great read for anyone who knows how difficult startups can be (no matter the role) and wants well-worn advice on how to survive.


  • Stoner. “Sometimes, immersed in his books, there would come to him the awareness of all that he did not know, of all that he had not read; and the serenity for which he labored was shattered as he realized the little time he had in life to read so much, to learn what he had to know.” This novel is one of the better works of American literature I’ve read in a long time. The book’s protagonist, William Stoner, comes of age on the barren soil of a Missouri farm before attending the local university for agriculture school. There, amidst the trappings of chinch bugs and manganese, Stoner takes a required course in English literature. In the hazy afternoon of that classroom, the words of Shakespeare’s Sonnet #73—”this thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong, To love that well which thou must leave ere long”—set him in reverie. When he awakens, his life has found a new path: teaching. A great campus read on finding your own purpose and happiness in life.
  • The Moon and Sixpence. I first read the name Somerset Maugham in the byline of an epigraph. It was a suitable introduction. Maugham’s writing—tight, dry, British—lends itself to quotation with ease. He’s also very funny. The Moon and Sixpence. Maugham’s novel based on the life of painter Paul Gauguin, lends itself both to its author’s quiet humor, and to his meditations on work and purpose. For Maugham’s painter protagonist, it isn’t fame or acclaim or success that he chases. It’s beauty. Beauty, and what it means to find it in life, emerges as the dominant theme of this book. It shows itself most in the protagonist’s monastic pursuit—his paintings, and the dark shroud of understanding contained within them, are its explicit manifestation. But beauty reveals itself in other, subtler ways throughout the novel. There are characters who find beauty in quiet, apartment-bound relationships, characters who find beauty in the families they build. It’s a nudge from Maugham. Create something. Make it beautiful. Be at peace. — Great book.
  • The Shining. A happy story for winter in the mountains. A fun way to dive deeper into the mythology of the movie while you test the heart rate monitor on your Apple watch.