“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison
When I was a kid I remember doing a summer program where you try to read as many books as you can. You get stars for each book and at certain levels you would get rewarded with ice cream or candy.
Being the model young citizen I was at the age of 8, I spent most of my time trying to find the store that sold the stickers rather than reading the actual books. I figured if I could get the stickers, I solved the whole problem of “getting more stickers” that reading seemed to solve.
But I digress.
Reading (or listening) to books is awesome. No, you’re not “cool” because you read books (that hasn’t changed) but you are better because of it. And being able to kick ass in life IS cool. So there.
What books give us is a connection to some of the greatest geniuses of our time. The minds of masters whose infinite amounts of mental energy were poured into a few fleeting words with an almost sacrificial mindset. “I have to do this” is not an uncommon way to describe a lot of self-depreciating writers of our time, even if it drives them into to the depths of depression or isolation.
The stories that books give us are often the most humanizing connections we’ll ever have. It’s as old as time – the passing of inspiration, lessons and experiences.
I remember talking to Charlie Hoen a few years back after he had just launched the Four Hour Body with Tim Ferriss. When asked about writing a book, he had a very poignant quote:
“The only books worth writing are ones that the author feels an unstoppable desire to write. There’s nothing he or she can do about it – the world just needs it.”
Some of the best threads I read on Facebook or Quora are about book recommendations. So I figured maybe you would like a list here as well.
Without these epic books, I’d never be where I am today.
To all writers out there of today and yesterday – thank you. Seriously.
1. The Fountainhead
If you are a guy and you’ve read this book, you understand why this is #1.
Politics/Ideology of Ayn Rand aside, this masterpiece shook me to the very core of my being. I read this the days after I quit my first real job and had my entire life turned upside down.
It is the story of two young men who take very different paths in life. One decides to join a prestigious architecture firm and placate everyone along the way, ascending faster than anyone imagined. The other chooses to stick to his vision of what the world should be, turning down jobs and income to protect the integrity of what he believes to be right.
The implications of these decisions eventually lead to a slow spiritual unraveling and a personal apex most men only dream of.
Growth, love, creativity and unrelenting desire to achieve are just a few themes this book embodies.
A must read for anyone under the age of 35…just remember it’s in the “fiction” section 🙂
2. The Slight Edge
My buddy John gave me this book a long time ago. Seemed simple enough – do a little work here and there to create something big. Duh.
But it wasn’t until I got into the first 50 pages that I really began to understand the power this book had.
It showed me a way to leverage compounding interest, the “8th Wonder of the World” as quoted by Einstein. Instead of looking at your 401K, however, author Jeff Olsen explains how this same phenomenon happens in everything we do…especially in our work.
You can see a good graphical representation below:
Small wins done consistently will almost always beat huge efforts done sporadically. A lesson for us all in the world of entrepreneurship.
I read Shantaram, turned the final page, and was speechless.
I felt something I’d never felt from a book. It was as if the author, David Gregory Roberts, had injected some sort of magic into me.
A story of complete selflessness from a man who went from a fugitive to prison to the ghettos of India…and still did everything he could to help the people he met. Despair, hope, heroin addictions, love, and connective forces that are felt by only a few in this life.
A reminder that good will always triumph in this world, even in the face of inconceivable sorrow.
But that’s not why it’s #3.
I read the Epilogue. Turns out that Roberts had spent 5 years writing this book in prison (the entire book is a true story) only to have his taken by the guards and incinerated.
On top of what I can only imagine to be the deepest depths of darkness, Roberts managed to come back and spend the next 10+ years RE-writing and finishing the book. He said the story had to be told.
Almost as amazing as the book are the reviews you’ll see on Amazon.
The ripple effect of this book has been titanic.
4. The Bonfire of the Vanities
Sherman McCoy, the “Master of the Universe,” is author Tom Wolfe’s centerpiece in one of the great American stories of the late 20th century.
Armed with an ego the size of his bond market trading account, the young Sherman finds himself on top of the NYC finance market before he’s 38 years old.
But on a drive back from a party one night, he accidentally hits a young black boy, sparking a cosmic wave that slowly unravels the king of Wall Street.
A classic warning tale about the farce of power and the mental sabotage people at the top often succumb to.
If you’ve never read any of Tom Wolfe’s stuff, he’s one of the greats (in my opinion).
Mildly controversial, he writes one hell of a story. A fictional Michael Lewis with a better flair for the epic.
5. The Call of the Wild
I read this in college while studying in New Zealand. It’s short, maybe 100 small pages, but Jack London’s ability to illustrate the connection between a dog and nature is one for the ages.
Growing up in Northern California, Buck, a regular house dog is unjustly selected to be shipped to Alaska to race and pull sleds.
Buck has no muscle or frame compared to the other Huskies he’s paired with. By all measures he should die quickly in the harsh arctic conditions – little food, blistering cold, never ending physical labor.
During his harrowing rite of passage, Buck develops a love for his new owner John Thornton that defies all other natural forces he is facing. It is through this connection that Buck is able to reach his true potential and finally be at peace in the unforgiving tundra.
If nothing else, take 10 minutes from your day and read this chapter about Buck’s feat of strength . It will give you chills & electrify you the way only great words can.
6. The Four Hour Workweek
What started as a book launch quickly became a cult movement which has since become a dramatic shift in how young people view the workplace. If you are one of the 2% of digital marketers who have never read this book, go do it immediately.
Author Tim Ferriss walks through automating your business, taking mini vacations and creating leverage in a way that had never really been done before. This book blows the lid off of everything you’ve ever known to be true about the next 30 years of your life, opening you up to flexibility and freedom that didn’t exist for generations before us.
A phenomenal book, one I wish I had read in college.
7. Let My People Go Surfing
Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, lays out a real life example of what we so often forget – create incredible products, stay passionate even in hard times and never sell out.
By doing so, he was able to build one of the biggest environmentally friendly companies in history and make a massive impact on causes he cares deeply about.
Outspoken and brash in his beliefs, it’s refreshing to see someone who simply went for it and told everyone who tried to stop him to get lost (read: f*** off). Even with hundreds of millions of dollars, his integrity is strong and he continues to make strides to help the planet he loves so much and the people who help keep his company moving.
A really great perspective on business even if you’re not interested in his politics or views.
8. The Way Of The Superior Man
It’s your fault.
You know what I’m talking about – your wife isn’t happy, your business isn’t going well, you’re kind of depressed. You just want to come home and watch tv so you can “zone out.”
Guess what? That’s not ok. And it’s your problem to fix.
For any man who’s ever blamed the other person in a relationship for problems or unhappiness, you should read this book.
It will open your eyes to the plain fact that we, as men, have a responsibility to be great in life and to produce energy in amounts well beyond what is expected of us.
We’re not designed to wake up and “enjoy each day” – we’re designed to wake up and make amazing things happen…then share that with the people in our lives.
For any woman out there who’s given your husband or boyfriend a copy of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” – you should read this too. You may not like what you hear, but you’ll understand why this book is so powerful once you get to the end.
This is not a book about relationships – it’s about understanding how to tap into your spiritual ocean of energy as a man or as a woman which translates into every part of life.
It will help you understand what it really means to be masculine and feminine (in the author’s definition) and why so many men never achieve greatness and why so many women never find true connection.
9. Endurance – Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
Imagine this – you’re on a ship in the summer of 1914 headed to Antarctica to see if you can cross it. You have a crew, supplies and a big boat.
But once you get there, all hell breaks loose.
Your boat is stuck in the ice. You run out of food. The sun casts its final sunset and retreats for a 6 month black winter. The ice starts to crush your boat and you’re forced to abandon ship…and live on the open icebergs around you.
Then 9 months later, you’re suddenly heading home.
The magnitude of this story is hard to describe. Hearing about how hard it was for these sailors to persevere is a true testament to the human spirit – the will to live will drive people to limits that nothing else can.
In the final chapter you hear an account of how Shackleton himself finds help…30+ pages that will challenge everything you ever thought possible about humanity and it’s ability to survive.
10. Atlas Shrugged
A book case needs book ends – so I’ll finish with the other Ayn Rand colossus. (see what I did there?)
Atlas Shrugged is considered one of the most influential books of the 20th century and is often cited as the #1 or #2 most impactful book on Fortune 500 CEO’s.
Why? It’s the story of capitalism vs socialism, privatization vs state mandated regulation. With the country in a very fragile state, the government looks to the half dozen industry leaders to bail them out. When they won’t cooperate, the government enforces redistribution.
The result is one of the greatest rebellions ever recorded on paper, a collusion of masters who decide that they cannot live in this world of persecution and must re-create a utopia of sorts deep in the mountains where they can build and trade freely, all value built on exchange.
A controversial and polarizing book that will force you to question your political beliefs no matter what side you stand on. An interesting real life genesis of this book can be seen in Summit Series and the “town” they are building in the mountains.
Who is John Galt?
On that note, go do something awesome.
What books have blown your mind? Comment below.
Rock & roll,