25 Years – thinking about the Five Best Books from the 25 years of the First Friday Book Synopsis – (Okay – Six best Books, plus…)

25 Years – and Counting!

At our April 7 First Friday Book Synopsis, we will begin Year 26.

We have met every month since April, 1998 (except for one cancellation because of an ice storm), and by my count, we have presented synopses of just under 600 books.

The “we” is Karl Krayer, my co-founder, and me.  Karl would present one book, and I the second, each month.  We did have a few guest presenters through the years, when one of us had to be absent.

And, I have been presenting both books each month since Karl suffered a stroke in the Fall of 2017.

As we prepare to celebrate our full 25 years, and as I reflect back on the many, many books we presented, the task of choosing the best, most important books feels like a truly impossible task.Man's Search for Meaning

When people ask me what is the best, or most important book, I have ever read, I do have a ready answer.  It is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.  Mr. Frankl survived the Nazi death camps, and wrote his masterpiece shortly after the second world war.  I presented my synopsis of this book at a special lunch presentation, back in September, 2017. We called that luncheon “The Great Books,” and I presented Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. (originally published, 1946), and Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

(Our First Friday Book Synopsis focuses on business books.  This luncheon let me branch out a little…).

The BIG IDEA of Man’s Search for Meaning:  There are three primary messages:

Message #1 – One must discover meaning to keep living.  — The will to meaning instead of the will to pleasure and instead of the will to power.

Message #2 – One has little control over what might happen – but the individual has the freedom to choose how he/she will respond to the situation.(“to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”)

And, Message #3 — The truth; that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.

That was the only time we held this “extra” session.  (Maybe I should hold a few more of these).

From our regular sessions on business books,  I tried to think about key books that seem to have really stood the test of time.  I came up with a list of five from the many we have presented. Mindset

• Book #1 — Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Ballantine Books; Updated edition (2007).  I presented this book well after it was published, at our April, 2018 session.

The BIG IDEA of Mindset:  There are two primary mindsets:

The Fixed Mindset “carved in stone” – you can go only so far, because there is a limit to your capability.

The Growth Mindset “just the starting point for development” – you always have more room to grow, to learn, to change for the better.

For lifelong learning, having a growth mindset is essential.  For leaders, it is essential that you believe your people can continue to grow and develop.  You have to view each person as capable of learning more! Thinking Fast and Slow

• Book #2 — Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  (2011).  Karl Krayer presented this book at our April, 2012 session. 

This book, written by Daniel Kahneman, Noble Prize winner in Economics, is possibly the most oft-quoted book that we have ever presented.  I see Kahneman quoted in book after book after book. 

The BIG IDEA of Thinking, Fast and Slow:  There are two primary “systems” of thinking:

System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.

System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.

In other words, System 1 is not much thinking at all.  System 2 requires work, serious research, and thoughtful pondering.  Books such as Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant make more sense after understanding Kahneman’s work. 

My selection for best business book of the year, 2019

My selection for best business book of the year, 2019

• Book #3 — Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein. Riverhead Books. (2019). I presented this book at our July, 2019 session.

A few years ago, I started picking out my own “best business book of the year.”  This was my selection for 2019.

The BIG IDEA of Range is right there in the subtitle:  generalists may be what we need more than specialists. So: train broadly; learn slowly 

I especially like what Mr. Epstein does with “learning environments”:

• kind-learning environments need experts with narrow expertise — “kind” learning environments. Patterns repeat over and over, and feedback is extremely accurate and usually very rapid. — That is the very definition of deliberate practice.

• wicked-learning environments need much broader input; narrow expertise actually hurts the outcomes…

• Do not treat the wicked world as kind; it is not kind! Chris Argyris, who helped create the Yale School of Management, noted the danger of treating the wicked world as if it is kind.RadicalCandorCover

• Book #4 — Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott. St. Martin’s Press. (2017). I presented this book at our May, 2017 session.

The BIG IDEA of Radical Candor is in her formula — leaders must:

Care Personally


Challenge Directly.


• Book #5 — The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande. Metropolitan Books (2009). I presented this book at our April, 2010 session.

The BIG IDEA of The Checklist Manifesto is that we all should carefully develop our checklists, and then follow them just as carefully, to get things done without anything falling through the cracks.

There are, of course, other books that reinforce some of these notions:  Getting Things Done by David Allen, and the recent Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte.  But maybe the book to read first in this category is Gawande’s modern day masterpiece on the value of checklists.

To choose just five books from 25 years is …just a drop in the bucket.  There are so, so many very good books I left out:  Extreme Ownership; The World is Flat; The Second Machine Age; Digital Transformation; Willful Blindness; Lean In… So many others… the list is long!

And, if I were to write this blog post on a different day, I might make other choices.

So, it is a good time to remind you that there is always the next good book to read.  And, in our 26th year of the First Friday Book Synopsis, I fully expect to present a synopsis or 24 books that will stretch us, teach us, and help us continue on the growth-mindset-path that we all are beckoned to follow.


so many books; so little time

so many books; so little time

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Each synopsis comes with my comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout, plus the audio recording of my presentation delivered at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.


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