Adam Grant Picks 12 Books to Kick Off 2021
Looking back on 2020, I wish I’d spent half my doomscrolling time reading books instead. And by half, I mean pretty much all. I would’ve been happier — and learned more. There’s no substitute for the deep engagement and insight that comes from being immersed in another person’s stories and ideas.
To give the new year a warm welcome, here’s a preview of the winter’s new books for leaders. They’re a mix of social science and memoir — the key themes are fear and courage, isolation and inclusion, tradition and transformation, adversity and resilience, and thinking and rethinking.
Fear and courage
1. Professional Troublemaker by Luvvie Ajayi Jones (March 2)
If you’ve seen her TED Talk or read her first bestseller, you know there isn’t a smarter or funnier cultural critic alive. This is the eye-opening, soul-nourishing, sidesplitting book you need to replace the anguish of 2020 with the courage to overcome your fears, master your doubts, and make good trouble in 2021.
2. Chatter by Ethan Kross (January 26)
This book might fundamentally change some of the most important conversations in your life — the ones you have with yourself. A pioneering psychologist and neuroscientist shows that instead of trying to silence your monkey mind, you can learn to educate it, motivate it, and even reason with it.
3. Bravey by Alexi Pappas (January 12)
This isn’t only an inspiring look inside the mind of a gifted athlete — it’s an arresting debut by a gifted writer. An Olympic runner explores how we can develop the grit to achieve our goals and the resilience to bounce forward from failure.
Isolation and inclusion
4. The Lonely Century by Noreena Hertz (February 2)
A renowned economist examines why our hyperconnected world feels so isolating and how we can solve the crisis of loneliness. The takeaways are as relevant to our families and friendships as they are to building bridges in our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces.
5. The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee (February 16)
A policy expert makes a powerful case that racism doesn’t just hurt people of color — it harms white people too. It’s a road map for rejecting the premise that one group’s gain is another’s loss and creating systems that promote progress for all.
Tradition and transformation
6. Work by James Suzman (January 19)
This book is a tour de force: I’ve been studying work for two decades, and I can’t remember the last time I learned so much about it in one sitting. A trailblazing anthropologist reveals that for over 95% of human history, hunter-gatherers led lives of abundance and leisure — and challenges us to consider whether the 15-hour work week of the past might return in our future.
7. The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson (March 9)
The journalist who told the life stories of Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs is back with a timely biography of Jennifer Doudna, PhD, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry. It’s a fast-paced account of her life as a pathbreaking scientist on CRISPR — and how gene editing could alter all life as we know it.
8. Change by Damon Centola (January 19)
When it comes to changing beliefs and behaviors, it turns out that influencers are overrated and sticky ideas aren’t always enough. A leading sociologist explains what really causes the rise of social movements, the diffusion of innovations in networks, and the emergence of change in organizations.
Adversity and resilience
9. My Inner Sky by Mari Andrew (March 2)
A bestselling author writes poignantly about finding beauty in darkness and hope in the face of despair. She’s my favorite Instagram poet (yes, that’s a thing), and it’s hard to imagine finding a brighter source of light than her words and illustrations.
10. Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad (February 9)
When her dreams were dashed by a life-threatening illness, this Emmy-winning writer captured the hearts of New York Times readers by chronicling her quest to survive — and then went on a road trip to meet her new pen pals and reinvent her identity. Her moving book on the journey is full of wisdom on resilience.
Thinking and rethinking
11. The Data Detective by Tim Harford (February 2)
I’ve long believed that statistics should be in the core curriculum of every school in every country. The FT’s undercover economist has given us the next best thing: an informative, entertaining guide to understanding causality and probability.
12. Think Again by Adam Grant (February 2)
The past year has challenged us all to rethink our assumptions about how we work, lead, and plan our lives. I wrote this book to explore the science of rethinking our own opinions, opening other people’s minds, and building cultures that prize humility, curiosity, and mental flexibility over foolish consistency. If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.