The self-help genre gets a bad press, and not without reason, but there are a few self-help books that I’ve read, enjoyed, and felt wiser as a result.

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. I found this wise, witty little book served as a touchstone throughout my years as a student. “You’d be surprised how many people violate this simple principle every day of their lives and try to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are.”

TED Talks by Chris Anderson is the best book on public speaking I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot of books on public speaking. While I admire what Chris has done with TED, I expected to disagree with a lot of his advice. Nope; he won me over.

Getting Things Done by David Allen is a modern classic with a cult following. The book feels a bit fussy, full of jargon, and over-complex. But the truth is that GTD wouldn’t have so many fans (including me) if it didn’t work on some basic level. The key idea of GTD is that you need to write down what’s on your mind, somewhere where you trust yourself to check at the right moment – and as a result, you’re more relaxed and more confident that at any particular moment you’re focusing on something sensible rather than leaving a time-bomb ticking away in your inbox. The rest is detail but the details do seem to matter. A strong recommendation from me.

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. A superb book about creativity and the effort involved. Some great stories and advice – and it’s an intensely pragmatic guide to living a creative life.

Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Measured by the number of copies I’ve given away this must be my favourite book. It’s humane and practical, proposing that we use designers’ methods such as prototyping and brainstorming to create better, more fulfilling lives and careers. Full of good-yet-unusual ideas.

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. A challenging and immensely practical book which asks us to step back and make much more deliberate decisions about which digital tools are worth the amount of attention and energy they cost. Forget the clever hacks and tricks: instead, use only the tools that are essential.

How To Have A Good Day by Caroline Webb – charming, evidence-based, wide-ranging and full of straightforward good advice.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo. Yes, the stuff about being kind to your socks is insane. So is the stuff about covering up brand names on cleaning products because they are shouty. But there’s a reason this book sells so well; it recognises two truths. First, most of us would appreciate our stuff more if we kept only the best of it; second, stuff has an emotional weight that must be dealt with if you want to throw it away.

How to Change by Katy Milkman. This is the definitive, evidence-based guide as to how to keep those resolutions…

The paperback of “The Data Detective” is out on 1 February in the US and Canada. Title elsewhere: “How To Make The World Add Up”.

“One of the most wonderful collections of stories that I have read in a long time… fascinating.”- Steve Levitt (Freakonomics)

“If you aren’t in love with stats before reading this book, you will be by the time you’re done.”- Caroline Criado Perez (Invisible Women)

I’ve set up a storefront on Bookshop in the United States and the United Kingdom – have a look and see all my recommendations; Bookshop is set up to support local independent retailers. Links to Bookshop and Amazon may generate referral fees.

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