The best books I read in 2019

I read 37 books in 2019. Here are the ones you should read too.

Table of contents

  1. Design
  2. Branding
  3. General
  4. Fiction

2019 was in many ways a great year for me. Both in terms of business, travel, life, and personal relationships.

It was also a great year for my reading habit (until I moved in mid-July 2019 and completely stopped reading for months, but that’s another story). By New Year’s Eve, I had read 37 books in total.

About half of the books I read were fiction. I read almost exclusively one author: Yukio Mishima. (A couple of books by Ernst Jünger and one by Charles Dickens slipped in there too.) I loved the experience of really getting to know an author, and Mishima’s writing is thrilling.

But on the non-fiction front, I covered a lot of ground. Books on habit-building, business and entrepreneurship, writing… And, of course, my areas of expertise: branding and design. Some of them were good, and some of them weren’t.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of the best books that I ended up reading. I’ve also written a short summary of each, describing what I got out of it, and who it’s for.

Design

Graphic Design: A Concise History

Graphic Design: A Concise History, by Richard Hollis

This book is different from most of the graphic design material I’ve read. It’s not about the theory of design, about formal elements, or typography.

Instead, Hollis covers the history of graphic design in Europe and the United States.

It’s really fascinating to see how the discipline has evolved over the past century and a half: how styles emerge as a result of economic and ideological forces — and sometimes even by accident.

Graphic Design: A Concise History is sure to be a fun read for anyone interested in design (or even art). And if you also happen to be a professional designer, I think the book can help you expand your design references. Too many designers nowadays immediately resort to Behance and Pinterest to seek out inspiration and ideas. But if you venture further away from current fads, you’re bound to create more interesting work.

The Designer's Dictionary of Color

The Designer’s Dictionary of Color, by Sean Adams

This book explores thirty different colors that are popular in design and art. It discusses their historical and cultural connotations, suggests possible palettes — and shows you how others have used them in the past. Again, this is an excellent reference work for any professional designer. And it’s a fun read for any non-designer who just happens to like color.

Logo Design Love

Logo Design Love, by David Airey

Logo Design Love is a beginner-friendly book about, you guessed it, logo design. David Airey walks the reader through the whole logo design process, references interesting design work, and pulls in perspectives of a few industry experts.

The book is thorough, honest, and without fluff. I’d definitely recommend it to fellow designers, especially ones who are new to the industry (I wish I’d read it three years ago; I’d be in a much better place today).

I might even recommend it to non-designers who are curious about the process of designing logos (perhaps you’re someone who’s considering hiring a designer, but has no idea what to expect?).

Branding

The Brand Gap

The Brand Gap, by Marty Neumeier

The Brand Gap makes good on its promise of being a quick and easy read. It’s short, snappy, and provides a good introduction to branding and brand-building. Some of the points should be taken with a grain of salt though (I’ve noticed that Neumeier is fond of making very bold claims without backing them up).

I’d recommend this one to anyone—especially clients/business owners who are just starting to think about branding and want a quick read that covers the fundamentals.

Made to Stick

Made to Stick, by Dan and Chip Heath

I read this book after Building a Storybrand (which I loved) and Contagious (which was just okay), both of which were inspired by Made to Stick.

This book has a much better insights-to-fluff ratio than Contagious—the research is thorough and the real-world examples are, for the most part, interesting. So-called “Clinics” (demonstrations of how you can turn a non-sticky idea into a sticky one) are interspersed throughout the book, but on the whole it’s not quite as action-oriented as Building a Storybrand (which is more narrow in scope, as it presents a framework for creating brand messaging).

I’d recommend this one not just to people who are building businesses and want to make sure their brands “stick,” but also to people in politics, writers… anyone in the business of ideas.

Bigger Than This

Bigger Than This, by Fabian Geyrhalter

In Bigger Than This (which is a very small and short book — easily read in one sitting!), Fabian Geyrhalter shows how you can gain an edge over competitors and earn the support and loyalty of customers, not through product innovation but instead by infusing “soul” into your brand.

Geyrhalter identifies eight ingredients that can be used to differentiate your commodity brand in a way that isn’t dishonest or superficial (for the most part). Through a series of case studies, he demonstrates how different companies are using these different ingredients to stand out and succeed in spite of their unremarkable products. He then offers some practical advice on things to consider before implementing any of the ingredients in your own business.

If you run your own business, this book ought to be on your shelf asap.

General

The Psychology of Graphic Design Pricing

The Psychology of Graphic Design Pricing, by Michael Janda

This book is dense, value-packed, and extremely actionable. Don’t let the title fool you though: while it was written with graphic design professionals in mind, any service-based business stands to benefit from the information.

On Writing Well

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser

William Zinsser’s book is delightful to read. Practical, funny—and just the right length. Out of all non-fiction books I’ve read, this was one of the most useful by far.

The War of Art

The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

This book is all about creativity, and how to actually be productive in your creative pursuits. If you struggle with procrastination or self-doubt, pick this up. It’s not a silver bullet, but it might very well help.

Fiction

Spring Snow

Spring Snow, by Yukio Mishima

Spring Snow is #1 in Mishima’s famous Sea of Fertility tetralogy. I’d argue it’s also the best (alongside Runaway Horses). It’s an agonizingly melancholy love story.

Runaway Horses

Runaway Horses, by Yukio Mishima

Runaway Horses is #2 in the Sea of Fertility tetralogy. Mishima has a way of finding beauty in the morbid, which really shows in this book.


In 2020, I plan to read at least thirty books. In an upcoming blog post, I’ll share what those books are. I’d also love to find out if you read any great books last year — drop me a tweet at @jonlpersson.

Until next time.

Erudite scholar Jon

Photo of the author, Jon Persson

Jon Persson

Owner of CultMethod. I help business owners create brands that attract customers in droves and command premium prices.

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