A Quick Rundown of Brené Brown’s 5 Most Popular Books

A Quick Rundown of Brené Brown’s 5 Most Popular Books

I first encountered Dr. Brené Brown the same way many did— through her TEDX Talk on shame and vulnerability. One of the most viewed TED videos of all time, Brown’s relatable sense of humor and Texan charm made everyone forget they were watching a lecture from a Ph. D and researcher. Her stories were relatable and her ideas accessible, setting her apart from most in her field. (If you’ve never watched the TED Talk that made Brown famous, carve out 20 minutes and watch it) Since then, Brown has given an additional TED Talk, published more books, and even has a Netflix special.

Dr. Brown is a qualitative researcher, and her books are full of stories from in-depth interviews. Similar ideas of courage, vulnerability, and authenticity come up again and again in Brown’s research and in her books. Brown is often repetitive, but not in the way that indicates unclear messaging or poor editing. She is repetitive the way a teacher is— carefully circling back to ideas she has already introduced to be sure that you’re keeping up— she is a professor, after all. However, I don’t recommend reading all of her books in immediate succession. You may feel tempted to gulp the material like a glass of water in the middle of the desert, like I did. I recommend taking it slowly, little sips here and there, so that you can absorb the information in a more lasting way. I have recommendations for which book to tackle first, which book to read if you could only read one, and how to find the book most relevant to you. Here is my quick rundown of Brené Brown’s most popular books.

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The Gifts of Imperfection

If you’re interested in a deep-dive into Brown’s work, you should start here. Authenticity and acceptance are at the center of The Gifts, and it is foundational understanding if you’re interested in exploring her research in vulnerability and courage. The Gifts is an important read for any self-diagnosed perfectionists out there, and for those who love them. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown offers 10 guideposts on what it takes to cultivate true authenticity in your life and the things that often stand in the way.

Through years of qualitative research through in-depth interviews, Brown has discovered that “The Wholehearted”, the term she uses to describe those who have a deep sense of worthiness, connection, and belonging, all practice courage, compassion, and vulnerability. Vulnerability, which Brown describes as emotional risk and exposure, is absolutely essential to wholehearted living. Vulnerability is a major key in releasing the idea of the perfect person you think you’re supposed to be, and embracing your authentic identity. The Gifts of Imperfection is brief while profound, a great read for anyone intrigued by the possibility of cultivating real courage and connection.

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Daring Greatly

If you only read one of Brown’s books, Daring Greatly should be the one. The heart of Brown’s work and her TED Talks, cultivating vulnerability and tackling shame are at the center of Daring Greatly. Daring greatly is an expression for choosing courage in emotional vulnerability, getting its name from Teddy Roosevelt’s The Man in the Arena quote:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Brown points out that while our culture consistently tries to convince us that vulnerability is weakness, this could not be further from the truth. The willingness to be emotionally vulnerable, to risk hurt, to put oneself in the position to potentially fail, is the bravest thing a person can do. The one who is willing to step into the arena, risk failure, is the one who dares greatly. Our struggle for worthiness and connection is at the core of humanity— and true belonging and authenticity belong to those who are willing to risk.

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Rising Strong

My personal favorite of Brown’s books, Rising Strong continues fleshing out her research on how the wholehearted live. Daring Greatly and Rising Strong work sort of like a team, and I wouldn’t recommend reading one without the other. If you’re like me, you may come across the ideas of Daring Greatly and think to yourself: This vulnerability stuff sounds great…until I fall on my face and it hurts like hell. A continuation of the principles of wholehearted living, Rising Strong addresses the inevitable falls that accompany daring greatly.

Brown writes,

“Here’s how I see the progression of my work:
The Gifts of Imperfection— Be you.
Daring Greatly— Be all in.
Rising Strong— Fall. Get up. Try again.”

The next step in understanding the wholehearted is understanding the way they handle pain and heartbreak. What do you do when you fall in the arena? In Rising Strong, Brown explains what it looks like to own our failures and our stories, remain curious about our emotions, and how to rumble with what comes next. This book is a necessary follow-up to Daring Greatly, full of practical advice for owning your story and choosing a new ending.

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Braving the Wilderness

Braving the Wilderness is sort of a lone wolf among Brown’s books and can be read at any point in your exploration of her work. While belonging and vulnerability are common themes in Brown’s research, Braving the Wilderness centers on what it looks like to find true belonging and authenticity when you’re standing alone.

I had the opportunity to hear Brown speak on her national book tour for Braving the Wilderness in 2017, where she shared her personal experiences of braving the wilderness. Brown describes the wilderness as standing in true authenticity in a culture increasingly demanding that we pick sides and prove our loyalty. Braving the wilderness sometimes looks like exchanging the either/or for the both/and, and refusing to bunker down in an echo chamber filled with only those who think exactly as we do. Brown describes four practices in learning to brave the wilderness, and, in qualitative researcher fashion, writes story after story of examples to glean from. This book is perfect for someone interested in finding true authenticity in an increasingly polarized world.

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Dare to Lead

Brown’s most recently published book, Dare to Lead is focused on bringing the principles of Daring Greatly and Rising Strong into leadership. I loved Dare to Lead so much that the second I finished it, I bought a copy for all of my favorite leaders. Dare to Lead is the culmination of Brown’s research on vulnerability and courage, with practical applications especially for leadership settings. This book is about creating a culture of honesty, empathy, and connection in a vast variety of organizations and workplaces.

Through personal experiences and stories that emerged in her research, Dare to Lead is the most practically applicable of her books. Brown describes what it looks like for leaders to invest in and encourage courage, empathy, and connection in the people they lead. Dare to Lead centers on what it looks like to cultivate leaders who dare greatly and change culture. After all, as Brown stated in her second TED Talk: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”

Thank you for taking the time to read my rundown of Dr. Brené Brown’s most popular books. Want book recommendations delivered right to your inbox? Join my email list below.

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This website contains posts with affiliate links, meaning that I receive a small commission if you purchase a book I’ve linked— at no extra cost to you. I’ll always be upfront with you when a post is sponsored or a book is gifted. All books I recommend are books I actually read and enjoyed.
No joke.