Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein is my Business Book of the Year for 2019 – (Loonshots by Safi Bahcall is runner-up)

epstein-5-19Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein Is my selection for the business book of the year for 2019.



First, my constraints:  I select my book of the year from the books I have presented during the year at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas (now in our 22nd. Year).  This year, I presented synopses of 23 books. (We had a guest presenter for one book this year, which gave us our total of 24 book synopses presented – 2 books a month, every month).

the book that we started with in 2019

the book that we started with in 2019

Next, when I choose my selection for book of the year, I ask myself:  which book really did break new ground; ground that I do not remember being covered in earlier books?  That rules out some very good books.  For example, I presented two terrific books dealing with some aspect of candor and psychological safety.  One, Dare to Lead by Brené Brown, was likely the best selling business  book of the year (the most months at #1 on the New York Times best selling business books list).  The other book dealing with this, The Fearless Organization, was by Amy Edmondson.  Both were excellent books; both took us for deep dives.  But, their ideas were not new to me.  I first remember reading about psychological safety from Charles Duhigg.  (He may have referenced Amy Edmondson; I do not remember).

So, important books, for sure.  Worth reading.  But, not my book for the year.

I also presented synopses of terrific books on:

• technological change and digital transformation; AI Superpowers; Industries of the Future and Digital Transformation. And add to these the book The Optimist’s Telescope, that has plenty of overlap with that arena.
• I presented a few terrific books about workplace issues: Why do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?; The Making of a Manager; Nine Lies about Work.
• A great book for coaches, and those needing coaching (i.e., just about everybody!): The Trillion Dollar Coach.
• A provocative book about workplace culture: What You Do is Who You Are.

And, let me say that for 2019, I did not present a single book that I found “not worth the time.”  These are all good books.  I’ll go so far as to say that if you read all 23 books I presented, you would be a better manager, a better leader, a more comprehensive, broad-based thinker; more literate.  2019 was a very good year for business books.

(See this blog post for the complete list of books I presented in 2019:  Part #1 of The Year in Review from the First Friday Book Synopsis, 2019).

But, for my selection for book of the year, I chose a book that really did break some new ground for me. And I had two that were my “finalists.”  I recommend that you move both up to the top of your reading list.

LoonshotsMy runner up for best book of the year was Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcall. St. Martin’s Press (2019).  Here’s the opening paragraph of my blog post about this book:

I love it when I read a book and I feel like I am learning so much that is new to me.  That’s exactly how I felt reading Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win WarsCure Diseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcall. I first heard of this book when I heard Krys Boyd interview the author on her Think program on KERA in Dallas.  (Click here to listen to her interview).  I presented my synopsis of this book at the May First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.

And I included this:

So, just what is a loonshot? Here’s the argument in brief (from the book): 

  1. The most important breakthroughs come from loonshots, widely dismissed ideas whose champions are often written off as crazy. 
  2. Large groups of people are needed to translate those breakthroughs into technologies that win wars, products that save lives, or strategies that change industries. 
  3. Applying the science of phase transitions to the behavior of teams, companies, or any group with a mission provides practical rules for nurturing loonshots faster and better.

This is a very good book.

But my selection for Business Book of the Year, 2019, is Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein.Riverhead Books (2019).

I started my blog post for this book with some definitions:

Range (verb) — to roam at large or freely
Generalist — a person whose knowledge, aptitudes, and skills are applied to a field as a whole or to a variety of different fields (opposed to specialist).

And I stated: In my synopsis, I ask: What is the point? Narrow expertise is great – until it isn’t. The breakthroughs may come from a group with greater diversity – a generalists group. And, people who are generalists may be a little bit happier.

And this: What is this book?
• This is a career path book
• This is a parenting book
• This is a book about educating children (and adults) – note: slow learning is the best learning
• This is a book on how to get better at decision-making
• This is a book about how to get better at coming up with breakthrough innovations
• This is a book about how to get better at problem-identification and problem-solving
• This is a book about the pluses of narrow expertise; AND… the minuses of narrow expertise

What this book does is tell us that, yes, the 10,000 hour rule is great.  But maybe plenty of hours invested in broad-based and diverse areas of interest may be every bit as valuable; maybe even more valuable.

I like to say that “the more you know, the more you know.”  After reading this book, maybe I need to tweak that: “The more widely you learn, and know, the more you know…”

There it is:  Range by David Epstein is my selection for the best business book of the year, 2019.  And that is in a very competitive field of very good books.


You can purchase my synopses for all of these books, and many more, from the “buy synopses” tab at the top of this page.  Each synopsis comes with my multi-page, comprehensive handout, along with the audio recording of my presentation recorded live at the First Friday Book Synopsis event in Dallas. Click here for our newest additions.

And, if you use the search box on this page, you can find my blog post, with my lessons and takeaways, on just about all of these books I presented in 2019, and many more from earlier years.

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