Here’s a common complaint I hear from my network:

“I’m so focused on the details of my job that I often forget that there is a wider world out there and am caught off guard when my co-workers bring up something that happened in the news. It’s kinda embarrassing.”

And here’s the suggestion I usually give them:

Read. Read Twitter. Read articles. Read my daily news digest (sorry, shameless plug), and read books. Yes, books! I know they’re long, but they’re the best way to get context on what’s happening in our world. Especially if you’re someone who can’t keep up with all the headlines in the world and just want some general knowledge.

1. If You Want to Understand America’s Place in the World

Superpower by Ian Bremmer talks about the three options facing America for its role in the world and is especially relevant due to this upcoming presidential election. Bremmer’s a beast in the world of political science. He’s both highly academic (he brought math into political science) and highly approachable (he has a really funny Facebook page).

2. If You Want to Know How the Financial Crisis Actually Happened

The Big Short by Michael Lewis is a good one to warm up with. It’s a smart summary of how the financial crisis of 2008 to 2009 was caused. Lewis’ style is irreverent and fun. You get about 80% of the way through the book before you even realize that the topic you’re learning so much about is typically pretty boring.

3. If You Want to Be Able to Discuss Modern Day Civil Rights

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander has pushed the issue of mass incarceration to the forefront of the American political discourse. It’s so good, in fact, that Mark Zuckerberg picked it up, too.

4. If You Want to Understand the Importance of Education in the Developing World

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai is the gripping memoir of the girl who took on the Taliban in Pakistan’s SWAT Valley for the right to have an education. The book gives an inside look on the importance of women’s education, and how it can not only combat extremist ideologies—but also empower entire societies. You won’t be able to read it without feeling inspired by what she’s accomplished.

5. If You Want to Get What’s Happening With Energy

The Quest by Daniel Yergin is a sequel to the author’s original masterpiece, The Prize. There’s no better place to start understanding the energy crisis than right here.

6. If You Want to Understand the Effect We’re Having on Our Planet

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein takes a fairly radical view on the effects of capitalism on the environment. Given that climate change is increasingly a front-page story, you should familiarize yourself with the range of solutions being presented. I wouldn’t take the book as gospel (or any other book on this list), but at the very least it will challenge the way you view your company’s CSR program.

7. If You Want to Get Inside Putin’s Head

Once Upon a Time in Russia by Ben Mezrich is probably the best page-turner there is on the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of the Russian oligarchs. Aside from being a fascinating read, it also gives you an idea for the type of country Putin inherited from his predecessor, Boris Yelstin, and why he’s so eager to return the Russian state to its former glory. Given everything happening in the world today, it’s the perfect background.

8. If You Want More Insight Into Saudi Arabia

Inside the Kingdom by Robert Lacey is a fascinating look into the inner workings of Saudi Arabia. Lacey gives an unprecedented view on the different segments of Saudi society and how it all comes together.

9. If You Want to Know What It’s Like to Do Business in China

Dealing With China by Hank Paulson might be slightly dry, but it’s worth taking the time to get through it. China’s probably the most important country after the U.S. when it comes to doing business. It is huge, it is rich, and it is very, very complex. Hank Paulson has been dealing with senior Chinese officials for decades, both as the head of Goldman Sachs and then later as the U.S. Treasury Secretary. He gives insights into how to get stuff done and how to survive the tough business landscape in China.

Here at The Muse, we love recommending products that'll make your workday better. We work with an affiliate program (meaning we earn a little money when you make a purchase from the suggested retailers), but rest assured that we don't just recommend any old thing. When it comes to articles like this one, these Muse-worthy books made this list not because we make money, but because we truly believe they're awesome.

Photo of man reading courtesy of Shutterstock.