“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,
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, MD is a poignant and beautiful look at life, relationships, and how to die. I recommend this book for anyone over 50 or who has parents over 50 or who has been diagnosed with a serious condition or who loves someone who is facing death soon — not that we shouldn’t look at the issues long before that time, but it’s not until we really understand how short life is that we can appreciate the depth of Being Mortal.
Thanks for the list,I will be reading them all (I did read “Call of the wild” when I was a kid, great book!) Some of my favourites is K.Chopra “Your life is in your hands” (non-fiction),and “A Fine Balance” R. Mistry. (fiction)
@Chris – Someone gave me a copy of “A Fine Balance” thats on my shelves. I should get on that 🙂
Incredible stuff Carter. There are very few finer things in life than to have someone thank you for a book recommendation. I can’t wait to get my hands on Fountainhead and thank you after the read.
I just hangout with one of my closest friends who has been on a secluded island for 14 months working as a surf guide. I recommended Shantaram, and it was the first conversation we had when we met up after his stint. Last night (while still traveling with the friend) we saw a bar called ‘Shantaram.’ The bar owner (Malaysian) had been locked up in a jail for YEARS in Germany for a crime he knew was wrong and sincerely regrets. He spent 2 of those years in solitary confinement. He told me he read EVERY single book in the jail library and stumbled upon Shantaram. Its a conversation I’ll never forget. And also a deep friendship and understanding between 2 complete strangers.
I’d put A Cambodian Odyssey and Kite Runner on my list. Both great books for traveling.
@Mark – epic story! Love it. I will def check out those two books. I’ve heard a lot about Kite Runner.
Great list! I’ve read a couple and I really appreciate your thoughts on the others. I’ll be updating my to-read list on Goodreads!
I have to jump on here and make a comment about Superior Man… This book changed my life. I’m 100% sincere when I say every man (or masculine person in any kind of relationship) should read this book. It was so important to me to start taking accountability in my relationship that I started seeing ways I could apply those ideas to my career too.
Being present every day is hard, but doing hard stuff is part of making life amazing. You nailed it with this one!
@Aaron – Right? That book is unreal. It’s both validating and really hard to hear, which is usually how the best advice is. To the top!
Just wanted to say that Audible is a great resource for those who don’t think they have the time to read these recommendations. The convenience of playing these books in the car, shower or to fall asleep to is worth the cost, in my experience.
@Pete – yes definitely. I personally am not much of an audio book guy mostly because I can’t focus on two things at once. I think audio is a terrific resource for some people, but I also think that it’s a little bit like watching tv while you write emails or work – without full attention, quality is lost. Just my two cents though and absolutely better than not reading/listening.
Thanks for putting in the time and effort to make this list. Great books have the power to inspire and transform. I would add two additional books to your list from my personal selection:
1. Siddhartha is a 1922 novel by Hermann Hesse that deals with the spiritual journey of self-discovery of a man named Siddhartha during the time of the Gautama Buddha. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siddhartha_(novel)
2. The Startup Owners Manual. Steve Blank and Bob Dorf co-authored “The Startup Owner’s Manual”, which was released in March 2012. The reference manual details a scientific approach to entrepreneurship and emphasises the importance of “rigorous and repeated testing.”The work draws on ideas from The Business Model Generation and The Four Steps to the Epiphany. According to Blank, the book was designed to be used as an “encyclopedia and a blueprint” for startups. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Blank#The_Startup_Owner.27s_Manual
Thanks for the list, I enjoy reading your blog and have been looking for more good books to read. I now have several more to add to my list.
A few I might add to your list are “The happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor, “Thou shall prosper” by Daniel Lapin, “Little Bets’ by Peter Sims, and “Start with why” by Simon Sinek.
After reading your post I immediately went and bought The Way of the Superior Man and…wow! Great book that was literally just the thing I needed to read right now (for my relationships and work). Thanks so much for sharing this great list!
@Stuart – hell yeah. That book is a good one to pick up every 6 months.
I liked Shantaram but it really felt like an author blowing his own whistle and embellishing a lot. Wasn’t very clear what was real and what part was fictitious.
My best book would be “Unbroken” from the author of Seabiscuit. This is a true story that took years to research and write from an independent author.
I also liked the 4 hour work week, but when you read up on him, it seems that he works 14 hour days and just outsourced the writing in it. Liked the concept and some of the ideas in it though!
Will definitely check out some of these others!
A recent great book I read is called “The Happiness” project. Completely mind changing and should be read every 2 years. I know you’ll like this Carter. 🙂
@Alex – thanks for the rec on the book! I will check that out tonight. Haha yeah Tim Ferriss definitely works more than most people I know. The guy is relentless. Fun fact: that title was chosen bc he ran a lot of pay per click campaigns on Google and that got the highest click rate, not because it’s about working 4 hours 🙂