Best Motivational Books

Down on your luck? Need some motivation to get out of bed? How about grabbing a book? Let us guess: you would, but you’re out of ideas regarding its author or title.

Worry not: we’re here to help!

Just bookmark this article, and you’re covered for the whole of 2019; even if need less than three days to read a 300-page book! Whether it is self-improvement you’re interested in or books about personal growth, whether you want the best motivational books for women or the best motivational books of all time – they are all here.

And we’ve provided a brief, unique summary/review for each of them, and categorized them on ten different self-explanatory shelves.

So, seriously, bookmark this article: it’s that useful

Without further ado – let’s roll.

The 101 Best Motivational Books List

(Click a title below to go to the respective shelf)

1. Basics of Motivation
2. Rules for Life
3. Power of Positive Thinking
4. You Are a Badass
5. Great Lecture
6. Why Would You Give a Damn
7. Fables and Fiction
8. Inspirational Biographies
9. Don’t Worry, Be Happy
10. Show Me the Money

1. The “Basics of Motivation” Shelf

You can’t motivate yourself without learning what motivation is. Want to do that? Well, these 10 books offer a great philosophical and theoretical framework!

The Motivation Manifesto1.1 Brendon Burchard – The Motivation Manifesto

About the Book: What better way to start a list of the 101 best motivational books you should read in 2019 than with a motivation manifesto? And Brendon Burchard’s really lives up to its name! His “9 Declarations to Claim Your Personal Power” will energize you to your very core! This is one you should keep on your bedside table. Or even under your pillow. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Without making the actual attempt, without trial and strife, there can be no true knowledge, no progress, no high achievement, and no legend.

Find Your Why1.2 Simon Sinek – Find Your Why

About the Book: In Start with Why, Simon Sinek proposed to the world – in his very own words – “the world’s simplest idea.” Namely, that why you are doing what you’re doing is more important than how you’re doing it or even what it is that you’re doing. In Find Your Why Sinek teams up with Peter Docker and David Mead and gives us the book we’ve all been waiting for: a practical guide to discovering that why. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

If we want to feel an undying passion for our work, if we want to feel we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves, we all need to know our WHY.

Drive1.3 Daniel H. Pink – Drive

About the Book: The subtitle of Daniel H. Pink’s thought-provoking 2011 bestseller, Drive – “The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” – tells you everything you need to know about this book. First of all, it explores the roots of motivation; and secondly, it reaches unexpected conclusions. In a nutshell, that money doesn’t motivate us; what does is autonomy, mastery, and purpose. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Pay your son to take out the trash — and you’ve pretty much guaranteed the kid will never do it again for free.

The Power of Habit1.4 Charles Duhigg – The Power of Habit

About the Book: We are creatures of habit, and Duhigg knows that the real power of this insight lies in the fact that “your habits are what you choose them to be.” However, as you know full well, it’s not easy to choose them: you are intrinsically motivated to do some things much more than some others. And though it’s not easy to change them as well, you can actually do it: just replace the routine but keep the initial cue and the final reward. Apparently, this works 100% of the time! (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

The Power of Habit
Favorite Quote:

The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.

Switch1.5 Chip and Dan Heath – Switch

About the Book: Speaking of habits and how to change them – here’s another classic in the field: Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch. According to the Heath Brothers, all successful changes follow the same pattern. Namely, people who change all have a clear direction, plenty of motivation, and a supportive environment. Or to use the Jonathan Haidt analogy they use: you need to direct the rider; motivate the elephant, and shape the path. You’ll know what we mean: just see 9.7 below. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Change is hard because people wear themselves out.

Thinking, Fast and Slow1.6 Daniel Kahneman – Thinking, Fast and Slow

About the Book: Daniel Kahneman is a world-renowned psychologist with – get this – a Nobel Prize in Economics. So, basically, he already knows about you more than you’ll ever know about yourself. Thinking, Fast and Slow is a summary of his life-long research, exploring the dichotomy between fast and slow thinking. We don’t think that you’ll place that much value in your own judgment after reading this book. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Thinking, Fast and Slow
Favorite Quote:

A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.

David and Goliath1.7 Malcolm Gladwell – David and Goliath

About the Book: Even in his forties, Malcolm Gladwell was already one of the most influential thinkers of our times. Now at 55, he is nothing less than an icon. Even though – like all of his books – a New York Times bestseller, David and Goliath may be his least famous book. But, in our opinion, it may be his most motivating one. Because it can show you why – and how – you can win, even when all odds are against you. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

David and Goliath
Favorite Quote:

Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times, and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.

The Power of Myth1.8 Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers – The Power of Myth

About the Book: People have found different ways to motivate themselves to endure and succeed ever since the beginning of times. In The Power of Myth – a book based on the six one-hour conversations taken between journalist Bill Moyers and mythologist Joseph Campbell in the last year of Campbell’s life – you can see why (and how) these most ancient strategies still work. “Follow your bliss,” says Campbell, “and doors will open where there were no doors before.” (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about.

How Will You Measure Your Life?1.9 Clayton Christensen – How Will You Measure Your Life?

About the Book: Clayton Christensen is a Harvard-based scholar most famous for his theory of “disruptive innovation.” However, in How Will You Measure Your Life? – co-authored with James Allworth and Karen Dillon – rather than giving us another analysis of Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, he gives us a book more in the tradition of Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture (see 5.10). And we should be grateful for it! Because How Will You Measure Your Life? introduces the “hygiene-motivation theory,” according to which, it is not money, but work conditions and job security, combined with recognition, personal growth, and sense of responsibility that are the true motivating factors of existence. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

It’s easier to hold your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold them 98 percent of the time.

Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work… and What Does1.10 Susan Fowler – Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work… and What Does

About the Book: Motivation, according to Susan Fowler, is a skill. Meaning, like all other skills, it can be taught and acquired. However, misunderstanding what motivation is leads to a “misapplication of techniques to make it happen.” For this reason, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work… and What Does sets before itself an objective to dispel all myths about motivation. Here you’ll learn how external undermine internal motivators and how, in order to be motivated, you need to live under an ARC of Freedom. We’ll let you find out what ARC stands for. But we’ll tell you that “people who experience ARC are thriving. They do not need something or someone else doing the driving.” (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Motivation is a skill. People can learn to choose and create optimal motivational experiences anytime and anywhere.

2. The “Rules for Life” Shelf

There are some people who can tell you how you should live your life. And usually, they are smart enough to pack their lifetime of knowledge in several rules. Your job: to merely follow them!

12 Rules for Life2.1 Jordan Peterson – 12 Rules for Life

About the Book:  By all accounts, Jordan Peterson is “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now.” His 12 Rules for Life are both humorous and revelatory. And they cover everything – from standing up straight with your shoulders back and putting your house in order to be precise with your speech and – yes! – petting a cat when you encounter one on the street. It’s Peterson, so of course there’s more to it; and of course, it’s as motivating as hell! (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

It took untold generations to get you where you are. A little gratitude might be in order. If you’re going to insist on bending the world to your way, you better have your reasons.

The Four Agreements2.2 Don Miguel Ruiz – The Four Agreements

About the Book: In his “practical guide to personal freedom,” Mexican neo-shaman Don Miguel Ruiz reveals the four tenets of true joy and happiness. Though fairly simple – as all wisdom is – the four agreements will probably affect you in a life-changing, world-shattering kind of way. Want to immediately find out what are they? Read here. (Read a brief summary of the book | Read the best quotes from the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

The world is very beautiful and very wonderful.  Life can be very easy when love is your way of life.  You can be loving all the time. This is your choice.

Just Shut Up and Do It2.3 Brian Tracy – Just Shut Up and Do It

About the Book: You already know that Brian Tracy is a no-excuses kind of guy. Hence the title. In Just Shut Up and Do It he presents his 7 steps to conquer your goals. So, you can learn how to: surmount the biggest obstacle to success; take charge of your life; dare to go forward; decide what you really want; overcome procrastination; become a lifelong learner; and never give up. (Read a brief summary of the book | Read more about Brian Tracy | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Top people build learning into each day. They read thirty to sixty minutes each morning—approximately one book per week.

Emotional Habits2.4 Akash Karia – Emotional Habits

About the Book: Akash Karia is a peak performance coach and a celebrated NLP trainer; and in Emotional Habits, he shows how Subtitled “7 Things Resilient People Do Differently and How They Can Help You Succeed in Business and Life,” this book is “a quick read that can have immediate and long-term benefits.” (Phil Barth) Not the least because it includes spot-on practical executrices. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

The goal of building emotional strength is not to somehow make every situation in life happy and rosy.

Simple Rules2.5 Donald Sull and Kathleen M. Eisenhardt – Simple Rules

About the Book: Life is difficult as it is to make it even more unbearable by adhering to complex rules. If you are – then this book is for you. Drawing on hundreds of studies and more than a decade of research, in Simple Rules Sull and Eisenhardt show how simple rules are the deal and how, armed with just a few of them, “you can tackle even the most complex of problems.” And thrive. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Simple Rules
Favorite Quote:

Investing the time up front to clarify what will move the needles dramatically increases the odds that simple rules will be applied where they can have the greatest impact.

The Daily Stoic2.6 Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman – The Daily Stoic

About the Book: Another obligatory bedside-table – or even under-the-pillow – book. Compiled by one of the leaders “for the charge of stoicism,” Ryan Holiday, The Daily Stoic contains “366 meditations on wisdom, perseverance and the art of living” – one for each day of the year, for the rest of your life. And they are all commented upon by Holiday who has a knack for illustrating how relevant this ancient school of philosophy is for our modern world. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Serenity and stability are results of your choices and judgment, not your environment.

Ignore Everybody2.7 Hugh MacLeod – Ignore Everybody

About the Book: Hugh Macleod (of is a pretty creative guy; so, when he publishes a book sharing a list of his 40 keys to creativity, it is bound to make a splash. A paean to originality and nonconformity, Ignore Everybody is both a humorous and engaging read; not to mention inspirational. By the end of the book, you’ll definitely want to take your kindergarten crayons back. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you, ‘I’d like my crayons back, please.

The Art of Nonconformity2.8 Chris Guillebeau – The Art of Nonconformity

About the Book: Chris Guillebeau has lived a pretty unconventional life, volunteering with Mercy Ships, founding a $100 startup, and visiting all 193 countries of the world by the age of 35. So, in a way, he has mastered the art of nonconformity. Based on his popular online manifesto, “A Brief Guide to World Domination,” this book shares what he learned throughout the process. And can help you learn not only how to set your own rules and live the life you want, but also how to change the world. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Unreasonable, unrealistic, and impractical are all words used to marginalize a person or idea that fails to conform with conventionally expected standards.

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success2.9 Deepak Chopra – The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success

About the Book: In the eyes of most people – yes, we’re looking at you, mums and dads – dreams are an antonym of reality. However, in the eyes of Deepak Chopra, reality and dreams are interconnected, and “the same laws that nature uses to create a forest, a star, or a human body can also bring about the fulfillment of our deepest desires.” A pocket-sized practical guide to the fulfillment of dreams, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, shares the whys and the hows; and it’s both motivating and enlightening. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
Favorite Quote:

The past is history, the future is a mystery, and this moment is a gift. That is why this moment is called ‘the present.

The Code of the Extraordinary Mind2.10 Vishen Lakhiani – The Code of the Extraordinary Mind

About the Book: True, many books can claim to contain “10 Unconventional Laws to Redefine Your Life and Succeed on Your Own Terms,” but Vishen Lakhiani’s bestseller actually does. There’s a high chance that you’ve encountered upon none of them (at least in the form they are shared here) in any other book you’ve ever read. And yet, from law #1 (“transcend the culturescape”) through law #7 (“live in blissipline”) to law #9 (“be unf*ckwithable”) – they all make sense and are helpful! (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.

3. The “Power of Positive Thinking” Shelf

Science has repeatedly shown that glass-half-full people live longer and happier lives than the rest of, well, us. These books show why. And how you can become one of them.

As a Man Thinketh3.1 James Allen – As a Man Thinketh

About the Book: Published more than a century ago, As a Man Thinketh is a literary essay by James Allen, one of the first which deals “with the power of thought, and particularly with the use and application of thought to happy and beautiful issues.” Described by Allen himself as “a book that will help you to help yourself,” As a Man Thinketh is one of the earliest self-help books; and it is still one of the best. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.

The Power of Positive Thinking3.2 Norman Vincent Peale – The Power of Positive Thinking

About the Book: Even though published fifty years after James Allen’s masterpiece, The Power of Positive Thinking is usually credited as the book which started the “positive thinking” revolution. Justly so, bearing in mind the fact that it’s written in a simple, yet engaging, style, and that it compiles an extensive list of case histories to go with the practical instructions. A classic. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade. Your mind will seek to develop the picture.

The Secret3.3 Rhonda Byrne – The Secret

About the Book: Rhonda Byrne doesn’t hide the fact that The Secret is directly inspired by the ideas of Norman Vincent Peale – or those by Wallace Wattles (10.1), Napoleon Hill (3.8 & 10.2) or Helena Blavatsky. And, indeed, The Secret doesn’t offer any new insights. But it does explain the law of attraction in the simplest manner possible – which is why the book sold over 30 million copies and was translated into 50 world languages. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

The Secret
Favorite Quote:

The truth is that the universe has been answering you all of your life, but you cannot receive the answers unless you are awake.

Ask, Believe, Receive

3.4 David Hooper – Ask, Believe, Receive

About the Book: Byrne’s The Secret may be inspired by Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking, but Ask, Believe, Receive is a direct sequel to The Secret. Inspired by the fact that “The Secret exposed the world to the Law of Attraction in ways James Allen, Earl Nightingale, and others hadn’t,” David Hopper wrote this book to complement it with a practical guide. It is a “step-by-step formula, actually five of them, to help you achieve what you want in specific areas of your life – money, relationships, health, employment, and business.” In seven days. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

The Law of Attraction won’t enclose you in a cushy cocoon, so you never have to deal with problems again – but it can give you greater control over how many of those problems you experience.

Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life3.5 Brian Tracy – Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life

About the Book: A list of 101 best motivational books is bound to include quite a few Brian Tracy entries; after all, he is a powerhouse – if not the powerhouse – in the world of motivational speakers. In Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life, Tracy provides a step-by-step blueprint on how to transform your ways of thinking about yourself and your potential and, thus, change your life for the better. If not – for the best. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

The very best way to predict the future is to create it.

The Power of Your Subconscious Mind3.6 Joseph Murphy – The Power of Your Subconscious Mind

About the Book: “I have endeavored to explain the great fundamental truths of your mind in the simplest language possible,” writes Joseph Murphy in the introduction to his ultra-popular The Power of Your Subconscious Mind. And he does. The result? The best book on the “miracle-working power of your subconscious mind” and its ability to “heal you of your sickness” and “make you vital and strong again. “ (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Busy your mind with the concepts of harmony, health, peace, and good will, and wonders will happen in your life.

You Can Heal Your Life3.7 Louise L. Hay – You Can Heal Your Life

About the Book: Just like is the case with most of the books in this category, the premise of You Can Heal Your Life is quite simple: everything is connected, and you can use this to your own benefit. However, if the other books explore the links between your mind and the universe, Louisa L. Hay’s perennial bestseller is mainly focused on the interconnections between your mind and your body. The main takeaway: most diseases are actually mental diseases; and they can be cured via your mind. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

What we think about ourselves becomes the truth for us.

Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude3.8 Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone – Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude

About the Book: After the Second World War, the godfather of self-help books and New Thought guru, Napoleon Hill, teamed up with businessman and philanthropist W. Clement Stone. Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude is the final result of their collaboration. “These two men,” commented upon it none other than Norman Vincent Peale, “have the rare gift of inspiring and helping people… In fact, I owe them both a personal debt of gratitude for the helpful guidance I have received from their writings.” (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude
Favorite Quote:

Whatever your mind can conceive and can believe, it can achieve.

The Road Less Traveled3.9 M. Scott Peck – The Road Less Traveled

About the Book: It’s been half a century since The Road Less Traveled was first published, so it may be a bit difficult today to understand the spiritual impact this book exerted upon publication. Read it, and you’ll instantly see why it sold almost 10 million copies long before books of its kind became mainstays of the bestseller lists. Exploring the topics of discipline, love, religion, and grace, Peck’s book will etch in your mind such truisms as “laziness is the ultimate sin” and “love is not a feeling, but an action.” (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.

The Power of Now3.10 Eckhart Tolle – The Power of Now

About the Book: Translated into more than 30 languages and recommended by Oprah Winfrey on numerous occasions, The Power of Now is one of the best manuals you’ll ever find on how to conquer your ego and let go of your worries. A mixture of Buddhism, mysticism and New Age, Eckart Tolle’s masterpiece suggests that about nine-tenths of your anxieties come not from things which are happening, but of things which have happened or might happen. And this is something you can – and should – change. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

The Power of Now
Favorite Quote:

As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle to dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease.

Best Motivational Books

4. The “You Are a Badass” Shelf

As the story itself demonstrates, there’s a Goliath in every David; in other words: it’s all in the state of mind. The biblical David had God as his guide; we are positive that these ten great motivators can serve the same purpose in your transformation from a David to a Goliath.

Rising Strong4.1 Brené Brown – Rising Strong

About the Book: In the world of motivational thinkers, Brené Brown is all but a legend. And Rising Strong is her call for “a critical mass of badasses who are willing to dare, fall, feel their way through tough emotion, and rise again.” And the rising process she suggests is a simple 3R procedure. First, you reckon with your emotions; then you rumble with your stories; and, finally, you revolutionize your existence. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

The truth is that falling hurts. The dare is to keep being brave and feel your way back up.

You Are a Badass4.2 Jen Sincero – You Are a Badass

About the Book: Hilarious and inspiring, You Are a Badass is the debut book of Jen Sincero, a motivational coach who has helped numerous people worldwide transform their lives and finally experience happiness. It is a 250-page tour-de-force of inspiration, shared out in 5 parts and 27 chapters. Through quite a few inspiring stories, wise advices, and simple exercises, Sincero goes on a mission to teach you “how you got this way,” “how to embrace your inner badass,” “how to tap into the motherlode,” and “how to get over your b.s. already.” You know, the lot which will help you learn “how to kick some ass.” (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

If you’re serious about changing your life, you’ll find a way. If you’re not, you’ll find an excuse.

Grit4.3 Angela Duckworth – Grit

About the Book: Angela Duckworth is University of Pennsylvania’s Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology and a 2013 MacArthur Genius Fellowship awardee. So, it’s safe to say she knows some things about human nature. In her debut, Grit, she claims that talent is only one part of the equation for success. Moreover, that it may even be the least important part. As she repeatedly shows in this great book, the ones who succeed are rarely the ones who are the best. It’s the ones who are the grittiest. Or, to clarify that a bit, the ones with the passion and the perseverance to succeed. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

With effort, talent becomes skill and, at the very same time, effort makes skill productive.

The Power of Self-Confidence4.4 Brian Tracy – The Power of Self-Confidence

About the Book: Oftentimes, average players can become great overnight; the only thing that’s changed in the meantime: their confidence. Brian Tracy’s book shows the extent to which self-confidence is the secret ingredient to success; and teaches you how you can attain it so that you can become unstoppable, irresistible, and unafraid in every area of your life. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

What one great thing would you dare to dream if you knew you could not fail?

Girl, Wash Your Face

4.5 Rachel Hollis – Girl, Wash Your Face

About the Book: It’s not you: nobody has life figured out. Rachel Hollis, for example, has four children, owns an ultra-popular blog, and is the CCO of a company she has founded. How does she do it? Well, actually, she doesn’t: she has merely let the chaos of her life spur her onwards. In Girl, Wash Your Face she shares the tips and tricks. Oh, yes: if the title wasn’t a giveaway, guys, turn away – this one’s for the girls only. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.

Year of Yes4.6 Shonda Rhimes – Year of Yes

About the Book: Among other things, Shonda Rhimes was the creative force behind one of the most popular TV shows ever: Grey’s Anatomy. She was also a workaholic with barely a minute to spare on her three children or dearest friends. That all changed in 2015, her “Year of Yes.” This book chronicles her experiences of that year; and can certainly inspire you to do something and start creating some of your own. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Happiness comes from living as you need to, as you want to. As your inner voice tells you to. Happiness comes from being who you actually are instead of who you think you are supposed to be.

Choose Yourself4.7 James Altucher – Choose Yourself

About the Book: Rife with insightful interviews and astute life lessons, Choose Yourself is one of the best self-improvement and motivational books you’ll ever read. The basic premise is (once again) quite simple (just see the title), but the way it’s related and the sheer force of the arguments is compelling. Because, as Altucher says, if there ever was a time in history when you could choose yourself – that time is today. Make the most of it. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Forget purpose. It’s okay to be happy without one. The quest for a single purpose has ruined many lives.

Awaken the Giant Within4.8 Tony Robbins – Awaken the Giant Within

About the Book: Tony Robbins is a motivational powerhouse. In fact, just seeing him or hearing him talk is enough for one to realize that he’s all kinds of a powerhouse. Awaken the Giant Within, a massive 600-page book, is perhaps his still best-known and best-loved work. As you’ll find out in it, getting rid of your old limiting belief systems is a painful process; but if there’s someone who can inspire you to endure the pain necessary to develop an empowering belief system, well, Robbins is your guy. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Awaken the Giant Within
Favorite Quote:

I truly believe we all have a sleeping giant within us.

Now, Discover Your Strengths4.9 Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton – Now, Discover Your Strengths

About the Book: As its title suggests, Now, Discover Your Strengths is a sequel to Buckingham’s debut, First, Break All the Rules, with the sole aim to help you – and we do mean you – realize your innate potential. It does this via the Internet-based StrengthsFinder Profile, based on a multimillion-dollar 25-year-long study. Once you buy the book, you’ll discover your unique number to use the program. And after going through the internet analysis and discovering your strengths, you are advised to come back to the book and find the best way to use them. Very unique, Now, Discover Your Strengths is not only groundbreaking but also an extremely useful book. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

If you stop investigating yourself for fear of how little you might find, you miss the wonder of your strengths.

Finding Your Element4.10 Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica – Finding Your Element

About the Book: If you don’t know who Ken Robinson is, then there’s a high chance that you don’t know what TED is either; because Robinson’s 2006 speech, “Do Schools Kill Creativity” is by far the most viewed TED Talk of all time. Finding Your Element builds upon that speech and its prequel-book (The Element), which taught us that the Element is the point at which “natural aptitude meets personal passion.” Here you’ll learn how to discover it and transform your life. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Finding your Element is vital to understanding who you are and what you’re capable of being and doing with your life.

5. The “Great Lecture” Shelf

Regardless of who you are or who you’ll become, a large part of it (for better or for worse) will always be the aftereffect of your professors’ lectures. We can only wish that some of them looked like these ten.

5.1 Elbert Hubbard – A Message to Garcia

About the Book: On February 22, 1899, Elbert Hubbard, an American philosopher and publisher, was irked by a lazy worker. That very night, he wrote this 32-page essay in an attempt to expose “the imbecility of the average man” and his “inability or unwillingness to concentrate on a thing and do it.” His starting point for comparison: a certain soldier named Andrew S. Rowan, who, just prior to the Spanish–American War, was tasked with carrying a message from President William McKinley to the Cuban insurgents’ leader, Gen. Calixto García, “somewhere in the mountain vastness of Cuba—no one knew where.” Hubbard’s main point: Rowan asked no questions; he just took the message and delivered it. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

The hero is the man who does the work.

This Is Water5.2 David Foster Wallace – This Is Water

About the Book: Due to his problems with depression and anxiety, David Foster Wallace lived a famously secluded life. In fact – and unfortunately – the only public speech he ever gave in his life was the commencement speech delivered on May 21, 2005 to the graduating class at Kenyon College. An unforgettable lecture on awareness and empathy, the speech was published in a slightly extended version as this book in 2009, a year after Wallace decided to end his life. Regardless of whether you’ll listen to the speech or read the book, Wallace’s messages will most certainly remain with you for many years to come. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book | Listen to the speech)

Favorite Quote:

You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

Harvard Commencement Speech5.3 J.K. Rowling – Harvard Commencement Speech

About the Book: Back in 1994, J. K. Rowling was a single mother of one, diagnosed with clinical depression and as “poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.” A year later, 12 publishing houses rejected her manuscript of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Today, she is one of the bestselling authors in history. In her 2008 Harvard Commencement Speech Rowling looks back at it all and shares the two lectures she wishes she had been taught at university: the importance of imagination and the usefulness of failure. (Read a brief summary of the speech | Watch the speech)

Favorite Quote:

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case, you fail by default.

Want to Get Great at Something? Get a Coach5.4 Atul Gawande – Want to Get Great at Something? Get a Coach

About the Book: Atul Gawande is an exceptional American surgeon and public health professor. In this TED2017 speech, he explains that, regardless of his level of expertise, he still needs a coach to get better – or at least not to regress. Athletes have been aware of this fact ever since the beginnings of sport. Even a Michael Jordan or a Garry Kasparov needs a coach. Doesn’t that mean, by implication, that we all do? (Read a brief summary of the speech | Watch the speech)

Favorite Quote:

Great coaches…are your external eyes and ears, providing a more accurate picture of your reality.

The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage5.5 Susan David – The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage

About the Book: There are objective facts and events; and, then, there are also our emotional reactions to them. It is the latter which actually shape our lives, everything from our health through our relationships and careers to the genuineness of our happiness and contentment. That’s why it’s exceptionally important to develop emotional flexibility; and Susan David’s speech will tell you how you can achieve that. (Read a brief summary of the speech | Watch the speech)

Favorite Quote:

Diversity isn’t just people; it’s also what’s inside people, including diversity of emotion.

Make Your Bed5.6 William H. McRaven – Make Your Bed

About the Book: The title of this book is the first of Admiral William H. McRaven’s ten life lessons. It’s a different way of saying “start your day with a task completed.” The other nine are the following ones: you can’t go it alone; only the size of your heart matters; life’s not fair – drive on; failure can make you stronger; you must dare greatly; stand up to the bullies; rise to the occasion; give people hope; and never, ever quit. Funny and inspiring, McRaven has a host of personal anecdotes to illuminate each of these suggestions; and to inspire you to dare greatly. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book | Watch the speech)

Favorite Quote:

Without pushing your limits, without occasionally sliding down the rope headfirst, without daring greatly, you will never know what is truly possible in your life.

You Don’t Have to Be an Expert to Solve Big Problems5.7 Tapiwa Chiwewe – You Don’t Have to Be an Expert to Solve Big Problems

About the Book: “Even if you’re not an expert in a particular domain,” says Tapiwa Chiwewe in this endlessly unassuming and infinitely inspiring speech, “your outside expertise may hold the key to solving big problems within that domain.” In his case, it was his background in computer engineering that helped him solve an ecological problem. What will the combination be in your case? The combinations are endless. And that’s the point. (Read a brief summary of the speech | Watch the speech)

Favorite Quote:

Sometimes just one fresh perspective, one new skill set, can make the conditions right for something remarkable to happen.

Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are5.8 Amy Cuddy – Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

About the Book: The second most watched TED Talk in history, Amy Cuddy’s Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are can be summed up in a single sentence: strike a “power pose” (think Wonder Woman) and your body will start releasing hormones to boost your feelings of confidence. In other words, regardless of whether you’re actually confident or not – you can trick your body to trick your mind that you are. (Read a brief summary of the speech | Read some Amy Cuddy quotes | Watch the speech)

Favorite Quote:

Don’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it…Do it enough until you actually become it and internalize it.

Tuesdays with Morrie5.9 Mitch Albom – Tuesdays with Morrie

About the Book: Morrie Schwartz, a sociology professor, was Mitch Albom’s favorite teacher at Brandeis. However, even though he had promised him the opposite at his graduation day in 1979, Mitch (now a nation-famous sportswriter) had not corresponded with Morrie for the next 16 years. And then he learned from an interview with Schwartz on the TV show Nightline that his university professor is dying from ALS. He called him immediately and for the next fourteen weeks, Mitch Albom spent every Tuesday with Morrie Schwartz. This book describes their discussions, covering everything from family to religion to the meaning of life. And it’s everything you’d expect it to be: poignant, heartbreaking, life-changing. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

The truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.

Tuesdays with Morrie5.10 Randy Pausch – The Last Lecture

About the Book: What if you suddenly find out that you have barely a few months left to live on this planet? We know what you’re thinking: there are so many things I’d do, so many dreams I have yet to achieve. Well, what’s stopping you now? In a nutshell, that’s the question Randy Pausch thinks is the most important one you can ask yourself. And the question he tried to answer in a poignant and inspiring one-hour talk, which he gave before a packed audience, merely 8 months before he passed away. This book grew out of that talk. And it’s so wonderful that we can honestly say to you this: if Pausch can’t motivate you to start achieving your dreams today, well, we don’t know who can. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book | Watch the speech)

Favorite Quote:

We cannot change the cards we are dealt; just how we play the hand.

6. The “Why Would You Give a Damn” Shelf

You know what? You worry about too many trivial things in your life. And that’s what stopping you from being happy. Here are ten books which can teach you how to give less damn about, well, almost everything.

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living6.1 Dale Carnegie – How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

About the Book: Published in 1948, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie – the godfather of self-improvement – is widely considered a self-help classic and one of the best books on the topic ever written. Carnegie wrote it because, in his own words, he “was one of the unhappiest lads in New York.” And these are the time-tested methods which helped him recognize and overcome his worries. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Nobody is so miserable as he who longs to be somebody and something other than the person he is in body and mind.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck6.2 Mark Manson – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

About the Book: Mark Manson is not a guy who’ll ever try to sugarcoat his words or his messages. And, albeit The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck cites quite a few academic studies, very early on you get the feel that this book is the best (unsubtle) proponent of the message he’s trying to relate to his readers. Namely, that life is unfair and that no matter how much you try to make it right, it will certainly find a way to hit you with a hammer at the least convenient moment. Your job is to find a way to absorb the blow. And not giving a damn about 99% of the things you are – is the best way to do it. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
Favorite Quote:

Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for.

Don’t Sweat Over the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff6.3 Richard Carlson – Don’t Sweat Over the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff

About the Book: Profoundly believing that “stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness,” Richard Carlson — a renowned psychotherapist and motivational speaker — spent almost all of his (unfortunately short) life studying the ways to overcome it. And the trademark-titled Don’t Sweat Over the Small Stuff is his best-known book on the subject. It shows marvelously how important is to simply calm down and chill out in life. True, the idea is simple, but so is Carlson’s style. Which makes both for an enjoyable and an inspiring read. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

We deny the parts of ourselves that we deem unacceptable rather than accepting the fact that we’re all less than perfect.

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck6.4 Sarah Knight – The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck

About the Book: “The life-changing magic of not giving a f*ck,” writes Sarah Knight in this “practical parody” of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, “is all about prioritizing. Joy over annoy. Choice over obligation. Opinions vs. feelings.” Hilarious and stimulating, Sarah Knight’s profane language, coupled with her blunt honesty, will teach you “how to stop spending time you don’t have with people you don’t like doing things you don’t want to do.” Don’t like it? Well, Knight couldn’t care less about it. It’s there on the first page: this is “a no f*cks given guide.” (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

I call it the NotSorry Method. It has two steps: 1. Deciding what you don’t give a f*ck about; and 2. Not giving a f*ck about those things.

Ego Is the Enemy6.5 Ryan Holiday – Ego Is the Enemy

About the Book: At first glance, the title of this book says it all. What it doesn’t say, however, is that Ryan Holiday is a modern-day Stoic (see 2.6) and that, for him, ego is not merely a clinical term in Freudian theory, but a word to describe “an unhealthy belief in your own importance.” And this belief is something you must get rid of, Holiday says, going over a host of killing-the-ego-related positive anecdotes – as well as cautionary tales – to make his point. Some of the great historical and contemporary figures mentioned in his book are George Marshall, Christopher McCandless, Jackie Robinson, Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as Larry Page, Paul Graham, and Steve Jobs. See why. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Ego Is the Enemy
Favorite Quote:

Be lesser, do more. Imagine if, for every person you met, you thought of some way to help them, something you could do for them? And you looked at it in a way that entirely benefited them and not you.

The 4-Hour Workweek6.6 Timothy Ferriss – The 4-Hour Workweek

About the Book: Before he became the world-famous entrepreneur that he is today, Timothy Ferriss was not much different from you; in other words: he worked about two-thirds of the day – and slept away the last one. There must be more to life – he thought to himself one day while on a 3-week sabbatical to Europe. And that’s when he stopped checking email and started outsourcing assignments. The result? Well, see the title. If that seems like a stretch, we guarantee you at least this: stick to Ferriss’ advice and you will at least undoubtedly escape the boring 9-5 lifestyle that’s draining all of your energy. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

The 4 Hour Workweek
Favorite Quote:

Doing less meaningless work, so that you can focus on things of greater personal importance, is not laziness.

Why Men Love Bitches6.7 Sherry Argov – Why Men Love Bitches

About the Book: A practical “from doormat to dreamgirl” guide for women, Why Men Love Bitches answers the rhetorical question from the title in an example-rich and emphatic fashion. We’ll let Argov’s definition of what being a bitch actually means give you a taste of what to expect from this brilliant New York Times bestseller: “A woman who won’t bang her head against the wall obsessing over someone else’s opinion – be it a man or anyone else in her life. She understands that if someone does not approve of her, it’s just one person’s opinion; therefore, it’s of no real importance. She doesn’t try to live up to anyone else’s standards – only her own. Because of this, she relates to a man very differently.” (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Be an independent thinker at all times, and ignore anyone who attempts to define you in a limiting way.

What If It Does Work Out?6.8 Susie Moore – What If It Does Work Out?

About the Book: If you’re anything like us, the first question you ask yourself every time you come up with an idea for something big is “what if it doesn’t work out?” Well, it’s time for a why-worries paradigm shift: in What If It Does Work Out? Susie Moore takes you on a step-by-step journey of how to transform your side hustle into cash; and, by way of proxy, your mediocre present of whys and what-ifs into a bright future of passion and fulfillment. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

You are not your job. You are much bigger than and not restricted by whatever your job title says you are – even if you love your current career.

Braving the Wilderness6.9 Brené Brown – Braving the Wilderness

About the Book: In the words of Joseph Campbell (see 1.8): “if you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” So, “stop walking through the world looking for a confirmation that you don’t belong,” Brené Brown joins in (see 4.1). “The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially our own. No one belongs here more than you.” And no one can teach you to stop worrying about the world and brave the wilderness inside you better than Brown. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

I have started to believe that crying with strangers in person could save the world.

When Things Fall Apart6.10 Pema Chödrön – When Things Fall Apart

About the Book: Almost any book illuminating the principles of Tibetan Buddhism can teach you to worry less and accept more. This one – one of our favorites – is written by a Berkeley-educated disciple of that crazy sage, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche; and abounds with piercingly beautiful pieces of counterintuitive “heart advice for difficult times.” The bottom line: you can overcome any pain by embracing it; and Pema Chödrön has a knack for choosing the right words in teaching you how. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves.

top motivational books

7. The “Fables and Fiction” Shelf

“I give you the truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion,” informs us Tom Wingfield at the beginning of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. And that’s what great fiction always does; and that’s why you can learn more about real life from these ten fictional stories than you can from, well, real life itself.

Allegory of the Cave7.1 Plato – Allegory of the Cave

About the Book: Imagine a group of prisoners incarcerated in a cave and chained in such a manner that they are merely facing a blank wall; and on the wall: nothing but shadowy projections of people and things passing in front of a fire burning behind them. And yet, since they can perceive nothing else, the shadows are what constitutes reality for these prisoners. According to Plato, in this unforgettable excerpt from The Republic, it is the job of the philosopher to break away from the chains and inspire others to see that there’s more to reality than mere projections; and it is a job he did flawlessly. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Anyone who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light.

The Alchemist7.2 Paulo Coelho – The Alchemist

About the Book: Inspired by an old folktale (search for the Peddler of Swaffham), Paulo Coelho’s most-celebrated book, The Alchemist, follows the journey of a young shepherd named Santiago, from the pastures of Andalusia to the pyramids of Egypt – and back again. The reason for this journey: a recurring dream which promises the poor boy treasure. In the end, he finds it; but it’s not where he expected it to be; and, moreover, it’s not what he expected it to be. Oh, just when will they finally release that Idris Elba-starring movie adaptation? (Read a brief summary of the book | Read the best quotes from the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

The Greatest Salesman in the World7.3 Og Mandino – The Greatest Salesman in the World

About the Book: According to Norman Vincent Peale (see 3.2), The Greatest Salesman in the World is “one of the most inspiring, uplifting, and motivating books” in existence; and, according to Matthew McConaughey, it profoundly changed his life. A parable set in the last years of the first century before Christ, this tiny booklet weaves mythology and practical tips in a way which makes life much more graspable and the act of selling (in the words of Daniel H. Pink) an inherently human – and humane – endeavor. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand.

TheMonk Who Sold His Ferrari7.4 Robin Sharma – The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari

About the Book: In a novelistic fashion, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari retells the story of Robin Sharma’s actual real-life transformation. A motivational fable, it is presented in the form of a conversation between two friends, Julian and John, during which the first one, a successful trial lawyer, recounts to the second one how he sold his Ferrari and his holiday home after suffering a heart attack. And how that decision was the best in his life, because it funded a Himalayan journey which, ultimately, changed his whole perception about himself – and life itself. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Life has bigger plans for you than you can possibly know.

Who Moved My Cheese?7.5 Spencer Johnson – Who Moved My Cheese?

About the Book: A very short 32-page barely illustrated story, Who Moved My Cheese? tells the story of two mice (Sniff and Scurry) and two little people (Hem and Haw). They live in a maze and are in a constant pursuit for cheese. After they find a whole bunch of it, the little people seem quite content with the discovery, while the mice are already thinking about the day they’ll have none. Sure enough, that day comes. And the little people have no choice but to learn how to deal with the scarcity of food. One of them deals with it better. And tries to motivate the other. And, much more importantly, by way of proxy, you. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

If you do not change, you can become extinct.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull7.6 Richard Bach – Jonathan Livingston Seagull

About the Book: What can a story about an outcast seagull who prefers mastering the art of flying to, well, eating, tell you about how you should live your life? Surprisingly: a lot. It is not for nothing that the book is dedicated to “the real Jonathan Seagull, who lives within us all.” Critically acclaimed Fahrenheit 451 author Ray Bradbury once wrote that Richard Bach “does two things: he gives me Flight. He makes me Young. For both, I am deeply grateful.” We are too, Ray, we are too. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now.

Siddhartha7.7 Hermann Hesse – Siddhartha

About the Book: Profoundly influenced by Western (Jungian) psychoanalysis and Eastern (Buddhist) philosophy and written in the simplest and most lyrical of styles, Siddhartha is one of the all-time classic novels of self-discovery and enlightenment. Siddhartha, a contemporary of the Buddha, experiences everything from the silence of asceticism through the pleasures of sex to the emptiness of loss – only to ultimately realize that life is actually what happens deep within ourselves. Let Hermann Hesse guide you on this very same path through the pages of this absolutely mesmerizing book. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

We are not going in circles, we are going upwards. The path is a spiral; we have already climbed many steps.

Walden7.8 Henry David Thoreau – Walden

About the Book: Remember how John Keating motivated his students in Dead Poets Society? Well, this is the book he used to do that. And if you want to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life” – it is certainly the book you should read as soon as possible! (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

The Old Man and the Sea

7.9 Ernest Hemingway – The Old Man and the Sea

About the Book: Ernest Hemingway had written quite a few immense novels adored by literary critics before he penned The Old Man and the Sea in 1951 in Cuba, but it seems that both the Nobel Prize Committee and the general public of the world really made note of him as a writer because of this novella. A story about a Cuban fisherman and his exhausting fight with a 5.5-meter-long marlin and quite a few hungry sharks, The Old Man and the Sea reads as something even more than an unforgettable allegory: a modern myth. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Man is not made for defeat… A man can be destroyed but not defeated.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven7.10 Mitch Albom – The Five People You Meet in Heaven

About the Book: Killed in an amusement park accident while trying to save a little girl from a falling cart, 83-year-old Eddie awakes uninjured in heaven. He is afterward taken on a journey through all five levels of it, meeting, at each step, a person whose life had been interrelated with his own while on earth. A timeless tale, The Five People You Meet in Heaven is as profound and as moving read as Tuesdays with Morrie (see 5.9); and at least as life-altering. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

We are all connected. You can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind.

8. The “Inspirational Biographies” Shelf

Some lives can be just as inspiring as any book or movie; the least they deserve is to be put on paper or adapted for the big screen. Here are our ten choices.

Man’s Search for Meaning8.1 Viktor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning

About the Book: Voted one of the ten most influential books in the United States, Man’s Search for Meaning is a once-in-a-lifetime life-changing book. Written by Viktor Frankl, an Auschwitz survivor, the book is not merely a haunting memoir of his soul-crushing experiences in the concentration camp (something which would have been enough to earn this book a place on this list in itself), but it also introduces a psychotherapeutic method which has helped numerous people around the world to overcome any kind of difficulty in their own lives. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Man’s Search for Meaning
Favorite Quote:

So live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!

The Diary of a Young Girl8.2 Anna Frank – The Diary of a Young Girl

About the Book: Here’s another memoir straight from the depths of despair and the abysses of human evil. Arguably the most famous among many written against the background of the horrors of the Holocaust, Anne Frank’s Diary chronicles the last two years of her prematurely ended life. However, what has really made this book “one of the most enduring documents” of the 20th century is Anne Frank’s “triumphant humanity in the face of unfathomable deprivation and fear.” (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them because, in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.

What Is the What8.3 Dave Eggers – What Is the What

About the Book: What is the What is subtitled “The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng” which may even sound a bit strange if you don’t know Dave Eggers’ aptitude for combining fiction and non-fiction to create unforgettably imaginative novels firmly rooted in reality. Yes, that means that Valentino Achak Deng is a real person and that Dave Eggers is essentially writing his story in his place. And what a story it is! One of the Lost Boys of Sudan, battling being orphaned, starvation, soldiers and lions (yes, lions!) only to finally be offered a new life in the United States and end up discriminated. Remind us, Primo Levi: what does it mean to be a human? (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Humans are divided between those who can still look through the eyes of youth and those who cannot.”

When Breath Becomes Air8.4 Paul Kalanithi – When Breath Becomes Air

About the Book: Paul Kalanithi was an Indian-American neurosurgeon with an MA in Literature and a bright future ahead of him when he was diagnosed with metastatic stage IV lung cancer. He passed away two years later, a month shy of his 38th birthday. Behind him he left a loving wife, a newborn daughter and a thought-provoking book which will undoubtedly enthuse you with a new-found love for life; whilst, expectedly, bringing quite a few tears to your eyes. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I am still living.

Unbroken8.5 Laura Hillenbrand – Unbroken

About the Book: Adapted in a 2014 Angelina Jolie-directed movie, Unbroken tells the story of Louis “Louie” Zamperini, the youngest US Olympian in history and a World War II hero. After suffering a plane crash, Zamperini survived 46 days drifting in the ocean before landing on the occupied Marshall Islands and ending up a Japanese prisoner of war. And he overcame everything to die peacefully in the 97th year of his life. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain.

The Glass House8.6 Jeannette Walls – The Glass House

About the Book: Back in 1963, Jeannette Walls set herself on fire while trying to cook herself some hot dogs on the stovetop because her mother was too busy painting to bother making her lunch. The most frightening part of that story: she was merely three years old. Still under the impression that you had a bad childhood? Walls’ remarkable memoir, The Glass House, is here to shatter for you that impression, all the while redefining the meaning of some words such as “family” and “love.” (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Things usually work out in the end.’ ‘What if they don’t?’ ‘That just means you haven’t come to the end yet.

Long Walk to Freedom8.7 Nelson Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom

About the Book: “Do not judge me by my success,” said Nelson Mandela once. “Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Long Walk to Freedom, his autobiography which served as the basis of the similarly titled 2013 movie adaptation, documents all of his pre-1994 falls and, more importantly, ascends. History has already judged them; by taking a bow. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it’s lowest ones.

Way of the Peaceful Warrior8.8 Dan Millman – Way of the Peaceful Warrior

About the Book: Based upon the author’s early life, Dan Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior tells the story of the life-changing meeting between a hurt world champion gymnast and a powerful old warrior/gas station attendant nicknamed Socrates. It may sound stranger than fiction, and yet, it’s all but. The 2007 movie adaptation was dubbed “Rocky for the soul,” and Eckhart Tolle (see 3.10) praised it with the words: “Watch it and be transformed.” Let us paraphrase him: read the book and change your outlook on life. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

Shoe Dog8.9 Phil Knight – Shoe Dog

About the Book: Phil Knight is currently worth more than $30 billion; and yet, just fifty years ago, he was basically a penniless entrepreneur with a risky idea. Namely, to strike an exclusive deal for the US distribution rights of the Tiger shoes with the Japanese Onitsuka company by presenting himself as a representative of Blue Ribbon Sports. The trick is: Onitsuka is a giant, and Blue Ribbon Sports is located in Knight’s parents’ house and has only him as the sole employee. Shoe Dog tells the rest of the story. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Shoe Dog
Favorite Quote:

Let everyone else call your idea crazy… just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where ‘there’ is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop.

Losing My Virginity8.10 Richard Branson – Losing My Virginity

About the Book: If not the favorite, Richard Branson is certainly the most colorful and least boring of all great entrepreneurs (Elon Musk comes close second). Judging by the quote below, you can easily guess why. Losing My Virginity is the first part of his autobiography – and it’s as outrageous and inspiring as you would expect! (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive, then I believe you are better off not doing it. A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.

9. The “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” Shelf

According to most philosophers, happiness is the ultimate goal of human life; in fact, according to Aristotle, it is the only thing human beings desire for its own sake. But should it be? Find out with some of the most motivational books on the subject of happiness ever written.

Stumbling on Happiness9.1 Daniel Gilbert – Stumbling on Happiness

About the Book: “If you have even the slightest curiosity about the human condition,” writes Malcolm Gladwell (see 1.7), “you ought to read this book.” And you really should! Written by a Harvard psychologist, it is witty and engaging, wide-ranging and thoroughly researched. Not to mention it answers some of the most troublesome questions of your life! Like, for example, why does the grocery store line slow down the very moment you join it? (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

If you are like most people, then like most people, you don’t know you’re like most people.

The Happiness Project9.2 Gretchen Rubin – The Happiness Project

About the Book: If there’s one thing that Gretchen Rubin is famous for – other than long, long subtitles – is her interest in all topics happiness-related. In this case, she explains why she spent a year trying to sing in the morning, clean her closets, fight right, read Aristotle, and generally have more fun. And how that all worked out. By the way, the project had a sequel in Happier at Home which was all about kissing more, jumping more, abandoning a project, reading Samuel Johnson – and some other experiments in the practice of everyday life. So be sure to check that one as well! (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.

The Art of Happiness9.3 Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler – The Art of Happiness

About the Book: Who better to tell you how you should live a happy and worry-free life than the man a large part of the world population considers the most enlightened human being currently treading the earth? In The Art of Happiness, His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, shares his simple philosophy on the art of happiness – all the while providing you with a multipurpose handbook for living. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

The How of Happiness9.4 Sonja Lyubomirsky – The How of Happiness

About the Book: It’s easy to experience a moment of happiness; what’s difficult is sustaining it for the long run. The How of Happiness by Russian-born American psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky – justly advertised as “a scientific approach to getting the life you want” – is focused on this letter part of the equation. And for a reason: according to studies, 40% of your happiness depends on your intentional activities and only 10% on the circumstances. True, the other half is genetically determined, but look at it this way: even in the worst-case scenario, you’re responsible for at least half of your own happiness. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

People have a remarkable capacity to become inured to any positive changes in their lives.

Happiness9.5 Richard Layard – Happiness

About the Book: One of the preeminent economists of happiness today, Richard Layard has been fascinated for most of his life with something called the Easterlin paradox. Namely, it seems that people’s happiness depends on their income only until a certain point – after which, money has no effect whatsoever on their wellbeing. The interesting thing: the paradox is as factual as Napoleon’s date of birth. Richer societies? Oh, no – says Layard in Happiness. We need to strive for happier societies. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

The more television people watch, the more they overestimate the affluence of other people. And the lower they rate their own relative income. The result is that they are less happy.

The Happiness Equation9.6 Neil Pasricha – The Happiness Equation

About the Book: In the words of Susan Cain, author of Quiet, Dale Carnegie (see 6.1) was last century, Stephen Covey was last decade, but Neil Pasricha is what’s now. And after earning himself a name with The Book of Awesome series and giving one of the most inspiring TED Talks ever (“The 3 A’s of Awesome”), Pasricha is back again with the simplest of all happiness equations: want nothing + do anything = have everything. Believe it or not – it is not a contradiction in terms. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Motivation doesn’t cause action. An action causes motivation.

The Happiness Hypothesis9.7 Jonathan Haidt – The Happiness Hypothesis

About the Book: In The Happiness Hypothesis, award-winning psychologist Jonathan Haidt examines – in as many chapters (not counting the conclusion) – ten ancient ideas about what it means to be happy; and he extracts the most applicable parts of them all. The main metaphor he uses – that of the dichotomy between the rider (the conscious mind) and the elephant (the unconscious mind) – has been reused by many authors during the last decade – the finest evidence in favor of the popularity and significance of this book. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Love and work are to people what water and sunshine are to plants.

The Happiness Advantage9.8 Shawn Achor – The Happiness Advantage

About the Book: An advocate of positive psychology, Shawn Achor is a Harvard-educated researcher in happiness and the presenter of one of the most popular TED Talks on the platform, “The Happy Secret to Better Work.” And someone whose books would fit just as nicely on our third shelf. Because his main thesis is that it isn’t success which brings happiness, but, the other way around: it’s happiness which brings success. His seven principles of positive psychology are as thought-provoking as funny-named. And we bet you want to immediately find out what does “Tetris effect” and “Zorro Circle” stand for. Please do. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

We tend to miss what we’re not looking for.

The Little Book of Hygge9.9 Meik Wiking – The Little Book of Hygge

About the Book: According to almost every study ever conducted, Denmark is the happiest country in the world. According to Meik Wiking – who is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen and is, of course, Danish – this is because the Danish have mastered the art of hygge. Wikipedia defines it as a “mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment;” Wiking has the details. And a bunch of practical tips. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happens but seldom.”

Feeling Good9.10 David D. Burns – Feeling Good

About the Book: As we told you in 9.4 above, about half of happiness is genetically determined; which means that there are numerous people on this planet who are, simply put, almost incapable of being happy. Most of them suffer from depression. David D. Burns’ Feeling Good is specifically written for them. Drawing on the ancient philosophy of Stoicism (see 2.6), Burns provides readers with a problem-focused and action-oriented mood treatment which actually and undoubtedly helps. It is called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and it is widely believed to be as effective as psychoactive medications. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Your thoughts create your emotions; therefore, your emotions cannot prove that your thoughts are accurate.

10. The “Show Me the Money” Shelf

As hinted in 9.5 above, money can’t buy you happiness; but, as Clare Boothe Luce, once quipped, “it can make you awfully comfortable while you’re being miserable.” Need some motivation to start earning? Then have a look at these ten books!

The Science of Getting Rich10.1 Wallace D. Wattles – The Science of Getting Rich

About the Book: The book which directly inspired Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret (see 3.3), The Science of Getting Rich is a century-old classic on the subject of wealth attraction. “There is no reason for worry about financial affairs,” claims Wattles. “Every person who wills to do so may rise above his want, have all he needs, and become rich.” Just follow Wattles’ rules, and you will become rich; with – and this is a direct quote – “mathematical certainty.” (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

The very best thing you can do for the whole world is to make the most of yourself.

Think and Grow Rich10.2 Napoleon Hill – Think and Grow Rich

About the Book: Written in 1937, Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich is the ultimate classic in the genre. Inspired by a suggestion from none other than Andrew Carnegie – at the time the richest man in the world – the book lays out the 13 principles of the Philosophy of Achievement: desire, faith, autosuggestion; specialized knowledge; imagination; organized planning; decision; persistence; power of the mastermind; the mystery of sex transmutation; the subconscious mind; the brain; the sixth sense. It’s difficult to argue with any of them. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Think and Grow Rich
Favorite Quote:

One of the main weaknesses of mankind is the average person’s familiarity with the word ‘impossible.

The Richest Man in Babylon10.3 George S. Clason – The Richest Man in Babylon

About the Book: Advertised as “the most inspiring book on wealth ever written,” The Richest Man in Babylon is yet another of the undisputable all-time self-help classics. Just like Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, George Samuel Clason imparts his wisdom and knowledge through a collection of parables set in ancient Babylon. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

It costs nothing to ask wise advice from a good friend.

Rich Dad Poor Dad10.4 Robert T. Kiyosaki – Rich Dad Poor Dad

About the Book: Just like Clason’s classic, Robert T. Kiyosaki’s bestseller – according to many lists, the #1 personal finance book of all times – is also written in a simple style abounding in immediately comprehensible parables. Its wisdom boils down to something that should be a truism: you can’t become rich without a proper education; and your school doesn’t provide it; neither your proper-education-bereaved poor or middle-class family. Let Kiyosaki. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Rich Dad Poor Dad
Favorite Quote:

Winners are not afraid of losing. But losers are. Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.

MONEY Master the Game10.5 Tony Robbins – MONEY Master the Game

About the Book: After publishing Awaken the Giant Within in 1991 (see 4.8), Tony Robbins published just one book in the next 23 years: the incremental-changes guide Giant Steps in 1994. And then, two decades later, inspired by the financial crisis, he came up with this exceptional “7-step blueprint for securing financial freedom.” “If there were a Pulitzer Prize for investment books,” noted at the time a review in Forbes magazine,  “this one would win, hands down.” (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

MONEY Master the Game
Favorite Quote:

Money can have the power to create or the power to destroy. It can fund a dream or start a war.

The Total Money Makeover10.6 Dave Ramsey – The Total Money Makeover

About the Book: Dave Ramsey is the common-sense financial guru of millions of Americans. And most of them will tell you that The Total Money Makeover is essentially their Money Bible. Time to make it yours. Why? Because it will help you create a plan for paying off all of your debt; because it will dispel for you the most dangerous money myths out there; and, finally, because it will inspire you to take control of your financial freedom. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.

Retire Inspired10.7 Chris Hogan – Retire Inspired

About the Book: Chris Hogan is Dave Ramsey-approved (“In my opinion, Chris Hogan is the voice of retirement in America today.”) And that should tell you enough. In Retire Inspired, he teaches that retirement isn’t an age, but a financial number. Which means that if you follow his advice – based on the amount of money you need to start living out your dreams – you can retire at any age you like; all you need to be is reasonable. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

It’s hard to live your dream in your golden years when you’re trying to make it on an income that’s actually below the poverty line.

The Millionaire Next Door10.8 Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko – The Millionaire Next Door

About the Book: If you are like most people, you don’t become rich by suddenly obtaining lots of money; you become rich by consistently spending less than you earn. It’s that simple. And Stanley and Danko’s comparison of UAWs (under accumulators of wealth) and PAWs (prodigious accumulators of wealth) is ample evidence in favor of this. The bottom line: the rich are your neighbors, and status items are for showoffs. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

Whatever your income, always live below your means.

The Power of Broke10.9 Daymond John – The Power of Broke

About the Book: From time to time, it’s good to have someone turn things on their head. If the power of money won’t do the trick for you – says Daymond John – The Power of Broke undoubtedly will. Published only recently, John’s manual for start-up entrepreneurs gives all the details on “how empty pockets, a tight budget, and a hunger for success can become your greatest competitive advantage.” (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

The easiest thing to sell is the truth.

Tools of Titans10.10 Tim Ferriss – Tools of Titans

About the Book: Once he successfully limited his workweek to four hours (see 6.6), Tim Ferriss started The Tim Ferriss show, “the first business/interview podcast to pass 100,000,000 downloads” and “generally the #1 business podcast on all of Apple Podcasts.” For it, he had the privilege and honor to interview over 200 world-class performers. Tools of Titans reveals their secrets, in a structured, easy-to-read and easier-to-apply manner. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

Tools of Titans
Favorite Quote:

The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.

The Wildcard

The Little Prince101. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – The Little Prince

About the Book: Some books manage to sell 2 million copies overall, and are considered exceptional successes; The Little Prince sells as much on a yearly basis for the past 70 years! Translated into more than 300 – yes, 300! – languages, this is one of the best-selling books ever published. Also: one of the very best. Fortunately, it just entered the public domain, so now everybody can read it. And everybody should. Because just like Ancient Greek myths or Jesus’ parables, it is timeless; and just like them – you can enjoy it – and understand it differently – regardless of your age. (Read the book | Buy the book)

Favorite Quote:

One sees clearly only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eye.    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF:   

40 Life Changing Books You Should Read in 2019

It is an undeniable fact that life changing books can make a difference in the world. Moreover, they can do that in the most profound way imaginable. I, for one, would have been an entirely different person had I not happened upon Plato, Chekhov, and the Gospels in my early formative years; upon Sagan, Nietzsche, Sartre, Campbell, and Jung. 

Precisely because of this, the list below has been on my mind for quite some time now – not merely because I wanted to create something which could serve as a constant reminder to myself of how I got to where I currently am.

The main reason why I’m publishing it, however, should be self-evident: consider each of the books here a warm and sincere recommendation by an avid reader and a lifelong believer in humanity’s power “to strive, to seek, to find – and not to yield”.

Unfortunately, it is too dynamic and focus-exhausting world the one we live in, and one certainly needs some guidance from time to time to (re)commit himself to the things which really matter in the most proper way; I would be more than happy to hear if some of the books below did such thing for you.

Because I know for a fact that each and every one of the titles on this list has the power to change the way you think: the books below have not only altered my perspective on life but also intensely transformed me as a person, affecting almost everything I do.

I originally planned to list the books in a chronological sequence, then (imitating, say, Tolstoy) to order them by the degree of influence they have had on me at a particular stage of my development.

In the end, I opted for something which I believe is even more reader-friendly: after playing around a bit with the titles, I grouped them into twenty categories, and I selected for each of them (out of a long list of more than a hundred titles) only the two I deem most influential in that specific discipline or sphere.

As you can see below, each book includes a brief (but original, informative and, sometimes, spoiler-heavy) summary, an introductory biography of the author, an illustrative review, a relevant quote and – most important of all – a raison d’être, aka a concise explanation why you should read the respective book and how exactly you can expect it to change your life.

Since I didn’t want to exclude some very dear life altering books of mine, I may have tweaked the categories a bit here and there; but, never in a way which should mislead the potential reader.

And even though it is, by design, a highly idiosyncratic list – its subjectivity should account for some of its more unconventional choices – whenever I had to pick between two similar books, I always went with the one which is generally (and, thus, objectively) considered more important, regardless of my opinion.


List of Life Changing Books

(Click a title below to go to the respective section)

1. Philosophy
       1.1 Marcus Aurelius – Meditations
       1.2 Ludwig Wittgenstein – Philosophical Investigations
2. Epistemology and Human Knowledge
       2.1 Immanuel Kant – Critique of Pure Reason
       2.2 Nassim Nicholas Taleb – The Black Swan
3. Philosophy of Science
       3.1 Carl Sagan – The Demon-Haunted World
       3.2 Thomas Kuhn – The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
4. The Scientific Life
       4.1 James D. Watson – The Double Helix
       4.2 James Gleick – Genius
5. Memoirs and Autobiographies
       5.1 Viktor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning
       5.2 Paul Kalanithi – When Breath Becomes Air
6. Psychology
       6.1 Daniel Kahneman – Thinking, Fast and Slow
       6.2 Malcolm Gladwell – Outliers
7. Health and Medicine
       7.1 Oliver Sacks – The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
       7.2 Robert Sapolsky – Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
8. Biology
       8.1 Charles Darwin – On the Origin of Species
       8.2 Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene
9. Ecology
       9.1 Rachel Carson – Silent Spring
       9.2 Elizabeth Kolbert – The Sixth Extinction
10. Anthropology
       10.1 Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens
       10.2 James Suzman – Affluence Without Abundance
11. Mythology
       11.1 James Frazer – The Golden Bough
       11.2 Joseph Campbell – The Hero with a Thousand Faces
12. History
       12.1 Arnold J. Toynbee – A Study of History
       12.2 Eric Hobsbawm – The Age of Extremes
13. Geography
       13.1 Jared Diamond – Guns, Germs, and Steel
       13.2 Eric Weiner – The Geography of Bliss
14. Economics
       14.1 Gregory Clark – A Farewell to Alms
       14.2 Thomas Piketty – Capital in the 21st Century
15. Markets and Money
       15.1 Benjamin Graham – The Intelligent Investor
       15.2 John Kenneth Galbraith – A Short History of Financial Euphoria
16. Politics
       16.1 Plato – The Republic
       16.2 Jonathan Haidt – The Righteous Mind
17. Sex
       17.1 Jared Diamond – Why Is Sex Fun?
       17.2 Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá – Sex at Dawn
18. Feminism
       18.1 Virginia Woolf – A Room of One’s Own
       18.2 Simone de Beauvoir – The Second Sex
19. Fiction
       19.1 Marcel Proust – In Search of the Lost Time
       19.2 George Orwell – Nineteen Eighty-Four
20. Practical
       20.1 Marie Kondo – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
       20.2 Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren – How to Read a Book
Honorable Mentions

Without further ado, let’s jump into the most life changing books of all time!

1. Philosophy

Life Changing Books Philosophy1.1 Marcus Aurelius – Meditations

About the Author: The last of the Five Good Roman Emperors – who ruled, according to Edward Gibbon, with a “firm but gentle hand… under the guidance of virtue and reason” – Marcus Aurelius was a life-long practitioner of Stoicism and the real-life version of Plato’s dreamed-up Philosopher King.

About the Book: Written to serve him as a source for personal guidance and self-improvement, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations – a series of 487 Stoic notes and ideas, divided into 12 books – were probably never meant to see the light of the day. Fortunately, they did (we have no idea how or by whom this “quake book was preserved) and they have served as an inspiration and signposts for life ever since. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: Let us quote here a brief appreciation by an unknown Byzantine poet, which, even though probably written a whole millennium ago, still rings true today:If you desire to master pain/ Unroll this book and read with care,/ And in it find abundantly/ A knowledge of the things that are,/ Those that have been, and those to come.// And know as well that joy and grief/ Are nothing more than empty smoke.”

From the Reviews: “Alone of the emperors, he gave proof of his learning not by mere words or knowledge of philosophical doctrines but by his blameless character and temperate way of life.” – Herodian, History of the Roman Empire from the Death of Marcus Aurelius

A Relevant Quote: “Be not distracted by their darkness and run straight for the finish line, unswerving.” (Read more Marcus Aurelius quotes)


Life Altering Books Philosophy1.2 Ludwig Wittgenstein – Philosophical Investigations

About the Author: A filthily rich Austrian eccentric who gave up all of his wealth to serve as a decorated World War I officer, teach in remote Austrian villages and solve all philosophical problems, Ludwig Wittgenstein was (according to his teacher Bertrand Russell) “the most perfect example… of genius as traditionally conceived; passionate, profound, intense, and dominating.”

About the Book: The only book Wittgenstein published during his lifetime was the exceptionally slim Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus which he famously summarized in a single sentence: “what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.” Moreover, he believed that the Tractatus was the last philosophical work that would ever need to be written. However, the posthumously collected and published Philosophical Investigations seem to question both of these claims in a way, which, if true, renders the whole field of philosophy “at best, a slight help to lexicographers, and at worst, an idle tea-table amusement.” (Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development) (Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By instructing you in the muddy origins and the unimaginable consequences of misunderstandings; by unraveling the complexity of language and demonstrating how many of the so-called philosophical problems of your life are actually no problems at all, being the product of a complete misinterpretation of how language works in practice.

From the Reviews: “…the one crossover masterpiece in twentieth-century philosophy, appealing across diverse specializations and philosophical orientations.” – the conclusion of an American across-universities survey which ranked Philosophical Investigations as the most important philosophical book of the 20th century

A Relevant Quote: “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.”

2. Epistemology and Human Knowledge

Life Changing Books Epistemology 2.1 Immanuel Kant – Critique of Pure Reason

About the Author: Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher whose life seems to have been as dull and conventional as his work was exciting and revolutionary: though he barely left his Prussian hometown of Königsberg (now Russia’s Kaliningrad) and led such a disciplined life that neighbors set their watches by his daily walks.

he is now widely considered the father of modern philosophy and one of the most influential thinkers in history.

About the Book: Before Kant, most philosophers believed that our understanding of the world is either the product of reason (Rationalism) or experience (Empiricism). Published in 1781, the Critique of Pure Reason synthesized these views in a hitherto inconceivable and counterintuitive way.

Setting off what is now justly called the Copernican revolution of thought. It is not the world which makes our understanding of it possible, but it is our understanding of it which makes the world possible.

In other words, our mind possesses a priori categories which it imposes upon our experience of the world to give the latter its phenomenal structure and character; the problem is that sometimes we apply these categories beyond their range; and that’s metaphysics for you. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By teaching you that even though one world exists irrespective of our reason, the world that actually matters is what your reason makes of it; by highlighting the importance of the three following questions: “1. What can I know? 2. What ought I to do? 3. What may I hope?”

From the Reviews: “…book of a lifetime, a rich panoply of materials” – AC Grayling

A Relevant Quote: “Human reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer.”

Life Changing Books Human Knowledge2.2 Nassim Nicholas Taleb – The Black Swan

About the Author: Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a Lebanese-American polymath (philosopher, statistician, trader) and polyglot (French, English, Arabic, Levantine, ancient languages…), the “enfant terrible” of the modern academic world, capable of simultaneously advocating – and with pretty much the same rigor – for an anti-GMO caveman diet, the cancellation of the Nobel Prize of Economics, and a bottom-up restructuring of practically the entirety of human knowledge. (Read some more about Nassim Nicholas Taleb)

About the Book: “The casino is the only human venture I know where the probabilities are known,” writes at one place Nassim Nicholas Taleb in The Black Swan. “In real life, you do not know the odds; you need to discover them, and the sources of uncertainty are not defined.” The result: most of our civilization (and the banking system especially) is founded on a gargantuan lie – namely, that we can guess much more about the future than we can actually do.

The lie is entrenched within a dishonest sleight-of-hand: social sciences instill us with a sense of false certitude by retrospectively tweaking their prediction models, but only after highly improbable events destabilize them – and, consequently, our societies as a whole.

Although The Black Swan is famously credited with predicting the financial crisis of 2008, its main concern (and this is the case with all other books in Taleb’s Incerto series) is the exact opposite: how to build a society which will not be knocked off-balance by events nobody can predict, but which will almost certainly happen. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By reminding you that “randomness, in the end, is just unknowledge” and that “the world is opaque and appearances fool us;” by teaching you that past performances are no indicators of future performances and that “it is contagion that determines the fate of a theory in social science, not its validity.”

From the Reviews: The Black Swan changed my view of how the world works” – Daniel Kahneman

A Relevant Quote: “It is more difficult to be a loser in a game you set up yourself.”

The Black Swan

3. Philosophy of Science

Amazing Books Philosophy of Science3.1 Carl Sagan – The Demon-Haunted World

About the Author: Carl Sagan was an American cosmologist, astrophysicist and science popularizer, best-known as the creative mind behind “the most widely watched series in the history of American public television,” Cosmos.

About the Book: The Demon-Haunted World is the still unsurpassed laymen-directed introduction to how the scientific method works and why, even when it doesn’t, it is still the best weapon humanity has developed to fight foolishness and manipulation – the actual demons haunting our world. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By showing you the real value of the scientific method and skeptical inquiry and warning you of the long-term hazards and effects of unfounded credulity; by providing you with a “baloney detection kit,” a set of tools which should prove invaluable to anyone living in a world of alternative facts.

From the Reviews: “A paean to knowledge and clear thought, Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World is a spirited defense of science and the scientific method against all comers.” – Lee Dembart for Los Angeles Times

A Relevant Quote: “For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”

Mind Blowing Books Philosophy of Science

3.2 Thomas Kuhn – The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

About the Author: Thomas Kuhn was an American physicist and historian whose controversial 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, is still the most coherent attempt at questioning the absolute objectivity of scientific conclusions.

About the Book: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is the book which, half a century ago, introduced an idiom now so common that it’s made quite a few appearances on TV: a paradigm shift. Kuhn used the term to refer to an event which causes such a fundamental change in a scientific discipline that it redefines its basic concepts; in Kuhn’s opinion, that’s precisely how progress happens: not in a linear, accumulative “puzzle-solving” way, but by way of revolutionary and unpredictable skips and jumps. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By redefining for you the word “progress” and, possibly, by inspiring you to use your or other people’s errors to find out more about yourself or the world, instead of dismissing them as anomalies which hinder your understanding.

From the Reviews: “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions did a gestalt flip on just about every assumption about the who, how, and what of scientific progress” – Chronicle of Higher Education

A Relevant Quote: “Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion.”

4. The Scientific Life

Fascinating Books The Scientific Life4.1 James D. Watson – The Double Helix

About the Author: James Dewey Watson is an American molecular biologist, zoologist, and geneticist, best-known for discovering the programming language of Life, aka the structure of the DNA molecule; a decade later (together with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins), he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

About the Book: “Consistently ranked as one of the greatest books written about science in the past century,” The Double Helix (just as its subtitle suggests) is Watson’s incredibly personal account of his (and Francis Crick’s) discovery of the structure of DNA, unusually candid for any day and age; not many scientists would tell you that they’re in it for the glory, now, would they? (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By simultaneously shattering and – somehow – endorsing the myth of the mad scientist who works within an ethical framework of his own.

From the Reviews: “…a work that combines the plot line of a racy novel with deep insights about the nature of modern research.” – Robin McKie for The Guardian

A Relevant Quote: “One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that, in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid.”

Life Changing Books Science4.2 James Gleick – Genius

About the Author: An American historian of science often described as “one of the great science writers of all time,” James Gleick is your real-life Dr. Ian Malcolm (and that’s not a joke!) and the man responsible for the explosion of butterfly-effect movie plots of the past three decades.

About the Book: As exceptional as James Gleick is, the man this book is about – Richard Feynman, an American theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate – eclipses him by far. A member of the Holy Trinity of 20th-century physics (with Einstein and Hawking), “he was not only a great scientist and a great clown but also a great human being and a guide in time of trouble.” (Freeman Dyson) “And whatever he understood, he could make others understand as well” (W. Daniel Hillis) (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: If Richard Feynman’s life and work don’t inspire you to fall in love with science (whether for the first time or all over again) – believe me – nothing ever will.

From the Reviews: “Gleick’s Genius is a masterpiece of scientific biography – and an inspiration to anyone in pursuit of their own fulfillment as a person of genius.”

A Relevant Quote: “For him, knowledge did not describe; it acted and accomplished.”

5. Memoirs and Autobiographies

Man’s Search for Meaning5.1 Viktor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning

About the Author: Viktor Frankl was an Austrian Holocaust survivor, who used his concentration camp survival experience to develop logotherapy, a personalized form of existential therapy still practiced in a number of institutes around the world.

About the Book: How do you survive an apocalyptic event the size and weight of the Holocaust? According to Viktor Frankl’s autobiographical account of his time as an Auschwitz inmate, the same way you do any of life’s great traumas: by creating a purpose for yourself and by imagining a future in which that purpose is met.

Against Adler’s Nietzschean-based will to power and Freud’s will to pleasure, Frankl here juxtaposes the much more humane (and Kierkegaardian) principle: will to meaning. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: The book’s original title is Trotzdem Ja Zum Leben Sagen which can be translated into English as Nevertheless, Say “Yes” to Life; they should have kept that one – since if there’s a book which can make you do that, it’s probably this one.

From the Reviews: “One of the great books of our time.” – Harold S. Kushner

A Relevant Quote: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Man’s Search for Meaning

When Breath Becomes Air5.2 Paul Kalanithi – When Breath Becomes Air

About the Author: Paul Kalanithi was an Indian-American polymath: a cum laude neurosurgeon with an MA in English literature; he died, aged 38, from lung cancer, but not before authoring a book about how to live through it; or anything else, for that matter.

About the Book: An emotionally exhausting and heart-wrenchingly tender memoir, When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Paul Kalanithi’s “transformation from a naïve medical student ‘possessed… by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life’ into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain… and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.” (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By teaching you that although we cannot avoid suffering, we can cope with it; because, in the end, that’s what life actually is.

From the Reviews: “I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option… unmissable.” – Janet Maslin for The New York Times

A Relevant Quote: “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything. Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

6. Psychology

Thinking, Fast and Slow6.1 Daniel Kahneman – Thinking, Fast and Slow

About the Author: Widely considered one of the most influential living thinkers, Daniel Kahneman is an Israeli-American psychologist whose research in human behavior and decision-making won him the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002.

About the Book: Building upon the ideas of Nassim Nicholas Taleb in the field of uncertainty/risk management, in Thinking, Fast and Slow – among other things – Daniel Kahneman further shakes the secure foundation upon which “our comforting conviction that the world makes sense” rests – i.e., “our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance” – by categorizing and exemplifying all the different biases which mar our judgements, irrespective of whether they are the product of System 1 (automatic, fast, stereotypic, pattern-based) or System 2 (slow, calculating, deliberative, logical) thinking. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By demonstrating – through a plethora of studies – when it makes sense to believe your intuition and when it doesn’t; by showing you – if sometimes merely via negative – numerous different ways you can use to trick your own brain into making more favorable decisions.

From the Reviews: “It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of Daniel Kahneman’s contribution to the understanding of the way we think and choose. He stands among the giants, a weaver of the threads of Charles Darwin, Adam Smith, and Sigmund Freud. Arguably the most important psychologist in history.” – Janice Gross Stein

A Relevant Quote: “Intelligence is not only the ability to reason; it is also the ability to find relevant material in memory and to deploy attention when needed.”

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Outliers6.2 Malcolm Gladwell – Outliers

About the Author: A staff writer for The New Yorker for more than two decades, Malcolm Gladwell is a Canadian journalist and non-fiction writer, famous as much for his singular talent for wedding interesting stories and interesting research to popularize all-but-forgotten social theories and concepts as for his public persona and messy bobdylanish hairdo. (Read some more about Malcolm Gladwell)

About the Book: In his third non-fiction book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell attempts to dispel “the biggest misconception about success” – namely that it is the result of “our smarts, ambition, hustle and hard work.”

Apparently – who would have guessed? – it is also the result of thousands of other factors, as diverse as whether you had access to a computer when nobody else had (Bill Gates) or were prominent enough to avoid being punished for attempting to poison one of your tutors (J. Robert Oppenheimer, apparently). (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By – once and for all – releasing you from the burden of groundless self-imposed expectations and helping you move away from the faux-pas notion that everything that happens to you is up to your determination, talent, and merits; by introducing you to the sometimes-it-may-work 10,000-hour rule.

From the Reviews: “The explosively entertaining Outliers might be Gladwell’s best and most useful work yet… There are both brilliant yarns and life lessons here: Outliers is riveting science, self-help, and entertainment, all in one book.” – Gregory Kirschling for Entertainment Weekly

A Relevant Quote: “No one – not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses – ever makes it alone.”


7. Health and Medicine

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat7.1 Oliver Sacks – The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

About the Author: Described as “one of the great clinical writers of the 20th century” and a “poet laureate of contemporary medicine,” Oliver Sacks was a British neurologist and a celebrated author of numerous bestselling collections of case-studies, each of which highlights his knack for narrative detail and exceptional writing style as much as the breadth of his knowledge and the profoundness of his humanity.

About the Book: Even though Awakenings, his 1973 account of his work with survivors of the encephalitis lethargica epidemic of the Twenties, should arguably be the more famous one of the two (if not merely because of the eponymous 1990 Academy Award-nominated film starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams), The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat seems to be the book Oliver Sacks would be most fondly remembered by.

And that already says a lot about it.

A collection of “short narratives, essays, parables about patients with a great range of neurological and neuropsychiatric conditions,” The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat demonstrates, over and over again, how much our perception of the world depends upon the proper functioning of our brain; and how difficult it is for us to notice when it is out of order. (Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By imparting on you the author’s life-long and almost self-evidential belief that the brain is the “most incredible thing in the universe;” by providing you with a list of unforgettable tales “so compelling that many of them serve as eerie metaphors not only for the condition of modern medicine but of modern man.”

From the Reviews: “One sees a wise, compassionate and very literate mind at work in these 20 stories, nearly all remarkable, and many the kind that restore one’s faith in humanity.” – Noel Perrin for Chicago Sun-Times

A Relevant Quote: “If a man has lost a leg or an eye, he knows he has lost a leg or an eye; but if he has lost a self – himself – he cannot know it, because he is no longer there to know it.”

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers7.2 Robert Sapolsky – Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

About the Author: Brooklyn-born child of Soviet immigrants, Robert A. Sapolsky is the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor of Biological Sciences, Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University and – in the words of none other than the above-mentioned Oliver Sacks – “one of the best science writers of our time.”

About the Book: In the alluringly titled 600-page Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, justly beloved primatologist and Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky “wittily dissects the anatomy of the human stress-response” by demonstrating not only how unavoidably it is engrained in the primeval fight-or-flight mechanism, but also how difficult it is for humans to control it in the absence of actual dangers and how easy it is to trigger it in the presence of an imaginative brain. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By teaching you everything you need to know about stress and stress-related diseases, by scientifically reviewing for you all the relevant literature on stress management, and by showing you “how some of its principles can be applied to our everyday lives.”

Also – by explicitly prompting you to throw away most of the other stress-related books you own, because, unlike what the majority of them claims, it is not “in our power to cure ourselves of all our worst medical nightmares merely by reducing stress and thinking healthy thoughts full of courage and spirit and love.”

From the Reviews: “Filled with delightful twists and turns, personal anecdotes, and nuggets of odd information—on voodoo death, Peter Pan, and the hunting skills of hyenas… First-rate science for the nonscientist.” – Kirkus Reviews

A Relevant Quote: “In our privileged lives, we are uniquely smart enough to have invented these stressors and uniquely foolish enough to have let them, too often, dominate our lives. Surely we have the potential to be uniquely wise enough to banish their stressful hold.”

8. Biology

On the Origin of Species8.1 Charles Darwin – On the Origin of Species

About the Author: Undoubtedly one of the most influential humans to have ever lived, Charles Darwin was the penultimate of six children of a wealthy doctor and the grandson of two prominent anti-slavery activists, Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgewood.

After neglecting both his medical and religious studies, a five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle helped Darwin establish himself first as a leading geologist of his time and then as one of the originators (together with Alfred Russel Wallace) of the theory of evolution, the unifying concept of the life sciences.

About the Book: Published on 24 November 1859, On the Origin of Species presented before the bewildered academic world of the 19th century, Charles Darwin’s innovative interpretation of the mechanisms by which speciation occurs.

“Owing to [the] struggle for life” – he sums it up in the third chapter, “any variation, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of any species, in its infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to external nature, will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will generally be inherited by its offspring.”

Mostly based on evidence he had gathered during the Beagle expedition of the 1830s, the book inspired a heated debate, which in no more than two decades, resulted in the majority of the educated public accepting Darwin’s theory as a fact; the United States is one of the very few countries in the world where this is not the case. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By enlightening you that it is not God who works in mysterious ways – but Nature in rather palpable ones; and by teaching you a lesson in humbleness, since “Natural Selection… is a power incessantly ready for action, and is immeasurably superior to man’s feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of Art.”

From the Reviews: “The supreme demonstration of why academic books matter… a book which has changed the way we think about everything” – conclusions from a 2015 survey which voted On the Origin of Species “the most influential academic book ever written.”

A Relevant Quote: “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

The Selfish Gene8.2 Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene

About the Author: When he is not receiving prestigious awards and debating publicly with different kinds of clerics and priests on all matters of religion and the Bible, Richard Dawkins is an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford and such a widely respected ethologist and evolutionary biologist that, in a recent public poll conducted by the Royal Society, he even managed to see off Darwin in vote for most influential science book ever.

About the Book: Famous as the book which introduced generations of Internet users to the neologism meme – in fact, an extremely debatable, possibly even “his most famous memorable invention” (James Gleick) – Richard Dawkins’ 1976 masterpiece, The Selfish Gene, popularized a gene-centered view of evolution according to which “all life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities.”

That’s a complicated and all too technical way of saying what Samuel Butler once put a little more bluntly and delicately as “a hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.” There may be a ghost in the shell, after all. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By opening your mind to the possibility of a Darwinian evolution which happens outside your genes (in the realm of the culture-based memes), all the while reminding you that you are, at the most basic level, merely a highly sophisticated tool your genes have produced to replicate themselves; wear that crown proudly, o human!

From the Reviews: “It is, in my view, the best work of popular science ever written.” – H. Allen Orr for New York Review of Books

A Relevant Quote: “We are survival machines-robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment.”

9. Ecology

Silent Spring9.1 Rachel Carson – Silent Spring

About the Author: The woman that launched a thousand environmental movements, Rachel Louise Carson was an American marine biologist and conservationist, whose critically lauded and lyrically written sea trilogy – The Sea Around Us, The Edge of the Sea and Under the Sea Wind – would have, in itself, secured her a place in history, had not Silent Spring been so influential to actually change its course.

About the Book: Originally published in three serialized excerpts in the New Yorker and, Silent Spring “touched off a national debate on the use of chemical pesticides, the responsibility of science, and the limits of technological progress.

When Carson died barely eighteen months later in the spring of 1964, at the age of fifty-six, she had set in motion a course of events that would result in a ban on the domestic production of DDT and the creation of a grass-roots movement demanding protection of the environment through state and federal regulation.

Carson’s writing initiated a transformation in the relationship between humans and the natural world and stirred an awakening of public environmental consciousness.” (Linda Lear, from the “Introduction”) (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By showing you that humans are nothing more but a fragment of an interconnected world and that everything you do to Nature – in the long term – you do to yourself as well.

From the Reviews:Silent Spring altered the balance of power in the world. No one since would be able to sell pollution as the necessary underside of progress so easily or uncritically.” – H. Patricia Hynes

A Relevant Quote: “How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind?”

Amazing BestSelling Books9.2 Elizabeth Kolbert – The Sixth Extinction

About the Author: A staff writer for The New Yorker ever since 1999, Elizabeth Kolbert is a “masterful, thought-provoking reporter,” visiting fellow at Williams College and author of two books on the most pertinent – because ongoing – environmental events of our age: climate change (Field Notes from a Catastrophe) and the Anthropocene extinction (The Sixth Extinction).

About the Book: The 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for General Non-Fiction, The Sixth Extinction interweaves research in quite a few disciplines to simultaneously document the five extinctions which dramatically changed the face of our planet in the distant past and alert that we are currently living in the midst of the sixth one which, unlike all previous ones, can be stopped – because this time it is not asteroids which are causing it, but none other than ourselves. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By making you wonder what it means to be a human if it doesn’t live in harmony and peace with the only planet that (as far as we know) makes life possible.

From the Reviews: Elizabeth Kolbert’s revelatory new book, The Sixth Extinction, about the rapid and radical changes man is wreaking on the Earth, is one of those works of explanatory journalism that achieves the highest and best use of the form. After you read it, your view of the world will be fundamentally changed.” – Mary Ann Gwinn for The Seattle Times

A Relevant Quote: “Though it might be nice to imagine there once was a time when man lived in harmony with nature, it’s not clear that he ever really did.”

10. Anthropology

Great Bestselling Books10.1 Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens

About the Author: Yuval Noah Harari is an Israeli historian with a PhD degree from the University of Oxford, whose specialty in world, medieval and military history evolved over time to encompass some innately anthropological themes, such as how much human history has been affected by human biology, to what extent the latter differentiates homo sapiens from all other species and, most significantly, have either of them ever progressed in the direction of making us happier beings.

About the Book: An international bestseller warmly recommended by the likes of Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, Sapiens has already acquired a cult status – even in spite of the fact that it has been justly criticized for quite a few oversimplifications and generalizations.

However, its central thesis – that we rule the world not because we are that biologically superior, but because we are the only animals capable of believing in things that exist purely in our own imagination, “such as gods, states, money and human rights” – even if not especially new, is just too provocative and too lucidly laid out to be passed over in silence. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By giving you a perspective on how your homo sapiens ancestors managed to supplant the other human species and how they transformed from animals of no significance into apex predators destined to become gods mostly through the use of myths and lies.

From the Reviews:Sapiens tackles the biggest questions of history and of the modern world, and it is written in an unforgettably vivid language” – Jared Diamond

A Relevant Quote: “You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.”


Affluence Without Abundance10.2 James Suzman – Affluence Without Abundance

About the Author: Great-nephew of renowned liberal politician and anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman, James Suzman is a Cambridge-based South African anthropologist, the first to ever work among the Southern Ju/’hoansi of Namibia.

About the Book: Part ethnography, part memoir, Affluence Without Abundance vividly and hauntingly registers the last remnants of the disappearing world of the Bushmen and recounts the problematic transition through which the communities of Namibia were pressed to go when their ancient hunter-gatherer world collided with the global economic movements of the modern age.

Suzman skillfully appends to this affectionate and sympathetic portrait numerous asides on the consequences of the agricultural revolution on the most intimate of our current beliefs and worldviews which eventually evolve into some of the most thought-provoking reflections on topics as modern and diverse as progress and equality, workweeks and money. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By challenging all of your ideas about the hunter-gatherer societies of the past; by introducing you to one – the original affluent society – which should question not only your long-term objectives but also the very foundation of your current life and your relentless pursuit for something more.

From the Reviews: “An insightful and well-written book [which] chronicles how economics and politics have finally conquered some of the last outposts of hunter-gatherers, and how much humankind can still learn from the disappearing way of life of the most marginalized communities on earth.” – Yuval Noah Harari

A Relevant Quote: “For hunter-gatherers the sum of individual self-interest and the jealousy that policed it was a fiercely egalitarian society where profitable exchange, hierarchy, and significant material inequality were not tolerated.”

11. Mythology

The Golden Bough11.1 James Frazer – The Golden Bough

About the Author: One of the very few people capable of writing a 12-volume footnote “to a line in Virgil he felt he did not understand” (Weston La Barre on The Golden Bough) and a “mere ‘essay’ of some 240 pages… as light recreation, suitable for the leisure of a scholar” (H. J. Rose on Myths of the Origin of Fire), James George Frazer was a Scottish classicist, comparative mythologist, and scholar of religion, widely considered one of the founding fathers of modern anthropology as well.

About the Book: Originally published in two volumes in 1890, The Golden Bough expanded sixfold by the time the world engaged in the first of the two great 20th-century wars, only to be abridged in a 1000-page single-volume mass-public edition by Frazer himself in 1922.

Even this latter version – bereaved of its capacious bibliography and precious index – is such a triumph of scholarship and imaginativeness that a host of intellectual (mostly literary) giants (Freud, Eliot, Yeats, Graves) were capable of looking past Frazer’s imperialistic worldview to dig up from it metaphors much larger and more profound than truth itself.

Two of the book’s main ideas – the ritual sacrifice of the dying king and mankind’s gradual progress from magic through religion to science – have gone on to live a life of their own, surviving to this day in more than one sphere and shape. (Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By taking you on “a voyage of discovery, in which [you] shall visit many strange lands, with strange foreign peoples, and still stranger customs;” by marking out a new territory for your imagination and creativity.

From the Reviews: “The 12 volumes of Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1890-1915), interweaving European antiquity with tribal societies, was a model of intriguing specificity wed to speculative imagination. Though many details in Frazer have been contradicted or superseded, the work of his Cambridge school of classical anthropology… will remain inspirational for enterprising students seeking escape from today’s sterile academic climate.” – Camille Paglia

A Relevant Quote: “The principles of association are excellent in themselves, and indeed absolutely essential to the working of the human mind. Legitimately applied they yield science; illegitimately applied they yield magic, the bastard sister of science.”

The Hero with a Thousand Faces11.2 Joseph Campbell – The Hero with a Thousand Faces

About the Author: A long-time professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College, Joseph Campbell was considered “the world’s most famous practitioner of comparative mythology” (Ron Hogan) during most of the second half of his life; in the last year of it, he conducted a series of interviews with journalist Bill Moyers which were released shortly after his death on October 30, 1987, as a six-episode PBS documentary; titled Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, the series remains “one of the most popular… in the history of public television.”

About the Book: Corroborated by abundant mythical evidence from all sides and corners of the world, The Hero with a Thousand Faces is a book-length delineation of the structure of the monomyth – that is, the archetypal narrative of the hero who embarks on an adventurous journey so that he can win a decisive victory against some fabulous forces and then come back to his community intensely transformed and “with the power to bestow a boon upon his fellow man.”

In the less popular second part of the book, Campbell explores the arche-story of the cosmogonic cycle, the chaos/order pattern which underlines the of mythical thinking. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By demonstrating how alike humans actually are and how so many seemingly diverse tales can be reduced – nay, expanded – to “one, shape-shifting yet marvelously constant story;” by inspiring you to transform your very own life into a “follow-your-bliss” adventure through forests of symbols, joined by poets and artists as your magical interpreters.

From the Reviews: “In the three decades since I discovered The Hero with a Thousand Faces, it has continued to fascinate and inspire me. Joseph Campbell peers through centuries and shows us that we are all connected by a basic need to hear stories and understand ourselves. As a book, it is wonderful to read; as illumination into the human condition, it is a revelation.” – George Lucas

A Relevant Quote: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered, and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

12. History

A Study of History12.1 Arnold J. Toynbee – A Study of History

About the Author: A nephew of the 19th-century working-class economist and his namesake, Arnold Toynbee was an extremely prolific British historian and philosopher of history, a leading specialist on international affairs, and – for much of the twentieth century – “perhaps the world’s most read, translated, and discussed living scholar.” (Michael Lang)

About the Book: Published between 1934 and 1961 in twelve volumes and spanning to more than 7,000 pages and 3 million words, Arnold Toynbee’s magnum opus, A Study of History, traces the rise and fall of nineteen major, four abortive and five arrested civilizations.

Hailed by contemporaries as “one of the greatest achievements of modern scholarship” and “a work of breath-taking breadth and vision,” the book’s attempt to superimpose a purifying cyclic understanding of the courses of history made it both a popular and an academic phenomenon in the despairing years following the Second World War; even nowadays, when it has been somewhat unfairly forgotten, it “has been praised as a stimulating answer to the specializing tendency of modern historical research.” (Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By either encouraging you to work toward not repeating the mistakes of our predecessors (nationalism, military, tyranny) or by finally convincing you that – in Shaw’s words – the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

From the Reviews: “…the most provocative work of historical theory written in England since Karl Marx’s Capital” – Time

A Relevant Quote: “The nature of the breakdowns of civilizations can be summed up in three points: a failure of creative power in the minority, an answering withdrawal of mimesis on the part of the majority, and a consequent loss of social unity in the society as a whole.”

The Age of Extremes12.2 Eric Hobsbawm – The Age of Extremes

About the Author: Born in Alexandria, Egypt, and raised in Vienna and Berlin, Eric John Ernest Hobsbawm was adopted by relatives after the death of his mother in 1931 (his father had died two years before) and moved to London with them just two years later, following Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.

In the years which followed he received a doctorate from Cambridge, developed a decidedly Marxist outlook, became an emeritus professor and president of Birkbeck, University of London, and grew to be “one of the few genuinely grand historians of our century.”

About the Book: A sequel to the trilogy on the long 19th century – The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789–1848, The Age of Capital: 1848–1875 and The Age of Empire: 1875–1914 – Eric Hobsbawm’s The Age of Extremes covers the short twentieth century, demarcated between the start of the First World War (1914) and the fall of the Soviet Union (1991).

An in-depth analysis of the collapse of nationalism and state socialism, intermixed with Hobsbawm’s obligatory criticism of free-market capitalistic societies and his knowledgeable observations on the history of the arts, The Age of Extremes is a fundamentally pessimistic take not only on humanity’s recent past, but also on what the future may hold for it in the long run. (Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By showing you that history is not the same as historiography and that the latter allows for many different interpretations – only one of which you’ve been taught at school.

From the Reviews:  “A magical re-creation of the most creative and destructive, the most utopian and most doubt-ridden period of human history… I know of no other account that sheds as much light on what is now behind us, and thereby casts so much illumination on our possible futures.” – Robert Heilbroner

A Relevant Quote: “Those of us who lived through the years of the Great Slump still find it almost impossible to understand how the orthodoxies of the pure free market, then so obviously discredited, once again came to preside over a global period of depression in the late 1980s and 1990s, which once again, they were equally unable to understand or to deal with.”

13. Geography

Guns, Germs, and Steel13.1 Jared Diamond – Guns, Germs, and Steel

About the Author: One of the finest specimens of the modern Renaissance Man, Jared Diamond is a professor of geography at UCLA with a Ph.D. in physiology from Trinity College, Cambridge, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of several books which illustrate his extensive knowledge and understanding of many related areas, biology, ecology, and anthropology especially.

About the Book: “In short,” – writes at one place Jared Diamond, summarizing most of his “artful, informative, and delightful” transdisciplinary masterwork, Guns, Germs, and Steel – “Europe’s colonization of Africa and America had nothing to do with differences between European and African peoples themselves, as white racists assume.

Rather, it was due to accidents of geography and biogeography — in particular, to the continents’ different areas, axes, and suites of wild plant and animal species.”

A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years, Guns, Germs, and Steel is a constant reminder that what we refer to as geography is, from a more celestial point of view, the genetic structure of our planet – and it is only natural that we should recognize it as defining influence on the fates of human societies. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By supplying you with “a rock-solid alternative” to the racist conception of history (Alfred W. Crosby); by showing you that there are scientific whys and wherefores to take heed of the advice Nick Carraway gets from his father long before the beginning of The Great Gatsby:

“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

From the Reviews: “An epochal work. Diamond has written a summary of human history that can be accounted, for the time being, as Darwinian in its authority.” – Thomas M. Disch, The New Leader

A Relevant Quote: “History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.”

The Geography of Bliss13.2 Eric Weiner – The Geography of Bliss

About the Author: A former foreign correspondent for NPR, Eric Weiner is the author of three part-memoirs part-travelogues, a “Woody Allen channeling Karen Armstrong” while searching for God (Man Seeks God), a Bill Bryson with the disposition of a Winslow Homer while searching for the smartest (The Geography of Genius) or the happiest place on earth (The Geography of Bliss).

About the Book: In The Geography of Bliss, self-described “grump” Eric Weiner travels around the globe to find out how other people define happiness and which is the happiest place on Earth: the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Thailand, Great Britain, India, or America (he also travels to Moldova – but only for the sake of contrast).

His conclusions sound as obvious and anticlimactic as the ending of Monty Python’s Meaning of Life: “Money matters but less than we think and not in the way that we think.

The family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude.” However – the conclusions are not the point as cliché as this may sound, they are not nearly as fun as the journey. (Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By showing you that happiness can be – but is not necessarily – a place; by teaching you that it is neither a noun or verb – but “a conjunction;  a connective tissue… completely and utterly intertwined with other people;” by providing you with “a simple question to identify your true home: where do you want to die?”

From the Reviews: “By turns hilarious and profound, this is the kind of book that could change your life. The relationship between place and contentment is an ineffable one, and Weiner cuts through the fog with a big, powerful light.” – Henry Alford

A Relevant Quote: “I’ve always believed that happiness is just around the corner. The trick is finding the right corner.”

14. Economics

A Farewell to Alms14.1 Gregory Clark – A Farewell to Alms

About the Author: A professor of economics at the University of California, Davis, Gregory Clark is an economic historian interested in the nature of social mobility and – at least as evidenced by his modest oeuvre (A Farewell to Alms and The Son Also Rises) – making half-successful puns on the titles of Ernest Hemingway novels.

About the Book: By Clark’s own admission, his thought-provoking debut A Farewell to Alms “is an unabashed attempt at big history, in the tradition of The Wealth of Nations, Das Kapital, The Rise of the Western World, and most recently Guns, Germs, and Steel.”

Its big idea is as simple as it is controversial. Namely, before the Industrial Revolution, humanity stagnated in a Malthusian trap for hundreds of thousands of years: technology improved too slowly and though it enabled better living conditions in the short-term.

It also ensured population growth, which, in the long-term, brought things back to status quo. However, after the Industrial Revolution, that all changed in the rich nations of today, but mostly because of the under-researched phenomenon of downward social mobility: the children of the rich took over the positions of the poor (whose number decimated due to diseases, wars, and rapid progress) and brought with them middle-class values (education, hard work, rationality) which, in turn, ensured future progress.  Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By casting doubts on some of the foundational assumptions of economics; by inviting you to (yet again!) question the nature of progress and the real point of pursuing it in the face of two startling and contradictory facts: “wealth has not brought happiness,” but, nevertheless, since “we are… descendants of the strivers of the pre-industrial world… modern man might not be designed for contentment.”

From the Reviews: “Right or wrong, or perhaps somewhere in between, Clark’s is about as stimulating an account of world economic history as one is likely to find. Let’s hope that the human traits to which he attributes economic progress are acquired, not genetic and that the countries that grow in population over the next 50 years turn out to be good at imparting them.

Alternatively, we can simply hope he’s wrong.” – Benjamin M. Friedman for the New York Times Book Review

A Relevant Quote: “The basic outline of world economic history is surprisingly simple.”

Capital in the 21st Century14.2 Thomas Piketty – Capital in the 21st Century

About the Author: “Arguably the world’s leading expert on income and wealth inequality,” Thomas Piketty is a French economist who holds a chair at both the Paris and London Schools of Economics; widely considered one of the essential thinkers of the left, he is one of the most coherent and discussed critics of capitalism currently active.

About the Book: A publishing miracle – its English translation is the most sought-after book ever published by the Harvard University Press – Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century presents a large body of empirical evidence spanning almost three centuries and proving that the rate of capital in developed countries is consistently greater than the rate of economic growth, a phenomenon Percy Shelley once laconically described as “the rich have become richer, and the poor have become poorer.”

In the words of Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, Piketty “does more than document the growing concentration of income in the hands of a small economic elite. He also makes a powerful case that we’re on the way back to ‘patrimonial capitalism,’ in which the commanding heights of the economy are dominated not just by wealth, but also by inherited wealth, in which birth matters more than effort and talent.” (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By showing you that – as far as data is concerned – Marx’s predictions of the future weren’t far off; by presenting a strong case that economic inequality isn’t just an accident but a feature of capitalism and that, consequently, our supposedly most advanced economic system may be a threat to democracy by design.

From the Reviews: “It seems safe to say that Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the magnum opus of the French economist Thomas Piketty, will be the most important economics book of the year―and maybe of the decade.” – Paul Krugman for New York Times

A Relevant Quote: “The poorest half of the population still owns nothing, but there is now a patrimonial middle class that owns between a middle and a third of total wealth, and the wealthiest ten percent now own only-two thirds of what there is to own rather than nine-tenths.”

Capital in the Twenty-First Century

15. Markets and Money

The Intelligent Investor15.1 Benjamin Graham – The Intelligent Investor

About the Author: A British-born American investor and economist, Benjamin Graham is widely acclaimed as “the father of value investing” and the author of two of the foundational texts of neoclassical investing: Security Analysis (with David Dodd) and The Intelligent Investor; Graham is also known as the mentor of quite a few giants in the world of investing, among them his favorite student and long-time protégé, Warren Buffett.

About the Book: Published in 1949 and hailed as “the stock market bible” ever since, The Intelligent Investor is not a “get-rich-in-short-time” manual for day traders and speculators, but “avert-risk-to-profit-in-the-long-term” handbook for true investors.

Graham’s wise examination of the market fluctuations and his memorable, aphoristically-styled advices – “investing isn’t about beating others at their game; it’s about controlling yourself at your own game” or people who invest make money for themselves.

People who speculate make money for their brokers” – have inspired numerous investors worldwide, teaching them the most important lesson of investing: loss minimization trumps profit maximization in nine out of ten cases. Fool yourself that you’re the one at your own peril. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By introducing you to the whims of the manic-depressive Mr. Market – and teaching you that even if risks sometimes pay off, patience and reason always do, so it’s only reasonable to ground both your investment strategies and your life projects in the latter.

From the Reviews: “By far the best book on investing ever written” – Warren Buffett

A Relevant Quote: “The intelligent investor is a realist who sells to optimists and buys from pessimists.”

The Intelligent Investor

A Short History of Financial Euphoria15.2 John Kenneth Galbraith – A Short History of Financial Euphoria

About the Author: One of the few people to receive both the Medal of Freedom and its successor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, John Kenneth Galbraith was a Canadian-born economist and diplomat; a one-time US Ambassador to India, a long-time Harvard faculty member, and a leading proponent of post-Keynesian American liberalism.

Galbraith was one of the most recognizable Cold War-era public intellectuals, simultaneously acclaimed and criticized for his economic theories, best exemplified by his 1950-60s trilogy– American Capitalism, The Affluent Society, and The New Industrial State.

About the Book: According to John Kenneth Galbraith, “there is nothing in economic life so willfully misunderstood as the great speculative episode.” And though in the fairly brief Short History of Financial Euphoria – a book which draws heavily on the first three chapters of Charles Mackay’s marvelous 1841 classic, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of the Crowds, Galbraith tries his best to make these episodes more comprehensible (especially for the general public) he eventually reaches a somewhat defeatist conclusion.

Namely, that “recurrent speculative insanity and the associated financial deprivation and larger devastation are… inherent in the system” because the factors which contribute to them are inherent features of the human nature: short-term fiscal memory, a fallacious link between wealth and intellect, and habitual disbelief in the pessimistic prophecies. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By, hopefully, teaching to stay away from possible bubbles, be they as tempting as dotcoms or as promising as Bitcoins; because “not only fools but quite a lot of other people are recurrently separated from their money in the moment of speculative euphoria.”

From the Reviews:Financial Euphoria is a keeper, the sort of book you’ll recommend to other investors. It is brief, readable, with a statesman-like style, yet not above the heads of small investors.” – Greg Heberlein for The Seattle Times

A Relevant Quote: “Speculation buys up, in a very practical way, the intelligence of those involved.”

16. Politics

The Republic16.1 Plato – The Republic

About the Author: Plato, the man who practically invented philosophy – and, more or less, Socrates – is widely considered “one of the most dazzling writers in the Western literary tradition and one of the most penetrating, wide-ranging, and influential authors in the history of philosophy… Few other authors… approximate him in depth and range: perhaps only Aristotle (who studied with him), Aquinas and Kant would be generally agreed to be of the same rank.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

About the Book: Possibly the most hotly debated book in the history of written texts – simultaneously described as a recipe for totalitarianism and the greatest contribution to the field of political philosophy ever – Plato’s Republic may be much less a discussion of the character and order of the just city-state than a romantic – and, ultimately, failed.

An attempt by Socrates to defend the inherent goodness of humans by ascribing their more animalistic traits to the dysfunctionality of the systems which structure their complex interrelations.

Even so, Plato – obviously a proto-Talebian skin-in-the-game proponent – will ultimately wind up a slave trying to put its ideas into practice in Syracuse, leaving generations of scholars bewildered and burdened by the difficult-to-grasp notion that one of history’s greatest philosophers may have been wrong about almost everything in his most important work. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By drawing your attention to the impassable abysses which stand between theory and practice, and by making you wonder whether we are capable of even imagining a fully functional political system better than the one we currently live in.

From the Reviews: “No one should think of going to a liberal arts college without reading Plato’s Republic. It is one of the basic books of the European mind and culture.” – John Ciardi

A Relevant Quote: “The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.”

The Righteous Mind16.2 Jonathan Haidt – The Righteous Mind

About the Author: A professor of ethical leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business, Jonathan Haidt is an American psychologist often listed as one of the world’s top thinkers and extensively cited for his research into the nature and mechanisms of morality, which, in his opinion, is an after-the-fact rationalization and justification of our primarily intuitive decisions.

About the Book: Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind is the book which popularized the Moral Foundations theory, a social psychological model which the author has co-developed with Jesse Graham by building upon the work of American cultural anthropologist Richard Shweder.

However, the most earth-shattering observation of the book is not that the foundations of our ethical behavior may be firmly rooted in the solutions (care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, sanctity) our hunter-gatherer ancestors were compelled to devise to solve problems (harm, cheating, oppression, betrayal, subversion, degradation) which threatened to tear down their societies.

It is the notion that, if so, morality is inherently contradictory, and no political or religious ideology could ever encompass all of its foundations, making polarization the rule of our interhuman interactions, rather than the exception. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By reminding you that you are probably living in an outlier WEIRD society (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) and that your notion of morality is much more individualized than the one which has made us who we are; by teaching you that “understanding the simple fact that morality differs around the world, and even within societies, is the first step toward understanding your righteous mind.”

From the Reviews: “A landmark contribution to humanity’s understanding of itself” – The New York Times Book Review

A Relevant Quote: “People bind themselves into political teams that share moral narratives. Once they accept a particular narrative, they become blind to alternative moral worlds.”

17. Sex

Why Is Sex Fun?17.1 Jared Diamond – Why Is Sex Fun?

About the Author: See under 13.1.

About the Book: Part of Basic Books’ Science Masters series, Jared Diamond’s Why Is Sex Fun? is a fairly brief – but highly instructive and immensely enjoyable – booklet which uses a lot of wit and memorable examples and parallels to summarize the evolution of human sexuality in about one hundred and fifty pages.

The question in the title is merely one of the many as taken-for-granted and as thought-provoking which Diamond tries to dissect and answer here. Some of the others include: why do we have sex in private rather than in public?

Why, instead of visibly advertising their own fertility, human females are unaware of their ovulations themselves? Why are they practically the only mammal which goes through such ostensibly antievolutionary phase such as menopause?

And why don’t males go through an analogous phase as well? All in all – why is human sexuality so abnormal when compared to the practices of the world’s thirty million other animal species?

Or, to rephrase that in a form which resonates back to the title of the book: why do we have sex for something other than reproduction? (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By opening your eyes to the strangeness of our sexual behavior; by showing you that it is that very strangeness which made us who we are today.

From the Reviews: “The best book on the subject I’ve read… Fascinating reading for anyone curious about why lovers do what they do.”

A Relevant Quote: “Perhaps our greatest distinction as a species is our capacity, unique among animals, to make counter-evolutionary choices.”

Sex at Dawn17.2 Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá – Sex at Dawn

About the Authors: Christopher Ryan is an American with a BA in English and American Literature and an MA and Ph.D. in psychology. Sex at Dawn builds upon Ryan’s doctoral dissertation (“Human Sexual Behavior in the Pleistocene: A Challenge to the Standard Model of Human Evolution”) done under the supervision of Stanley Krippner.

Born to second-generation Indian immigrants in war-torn Mozambique, but schooled (in both psychiatry and occupational medicine) in Portugal, Cacilda Jethá – to use her own words – “has an Indian face, a European education, and an African soul.”

About the Book: Once again – just like James Suzman’s Affluence Without Abundance (see 10.2) invoking the idea that the agricultural revolution not only irretrievably changed us but also made us unjustly blind to the ethos of the earlier (and longer-lasting) civilizations.

Sex at Dawn challenges the standard model of human evolution, by arguing that in the fiercely egalitarian societies of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, sex was not an exchangeable commodity (part of the fidelity for protection transaction), but a shared communal experience, revolving more around practices such as polygamy and bonding than around coupledom and jealousy. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By making you see that our evolved sexuality is in direct conflict with many aspects of the modern world” and that “the contradictions between what we’re told we should feel and what we actually do feel generates a huge amount of unnecessary suffering. 

Become more tolerant toward yourself and toward others; by “finally putting to rest the idea that men have some innate, instinctive right to monitor and control women’s sexual behavior.”

From the Reviews: “A wonderfully provocative and well-written book which completely re-evaluates human sexual behavior and gets to the root of many of our social and psychological ills.” – Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá

A Relevant Quote: “Before the war on drugs, the war on terror, or the war on cancer, there was the war on female sexual desire. It’s a war that has been raging far longer than any other, and its victims’ number well into the billions by now.

Like the others, it’s a war that can never be won, as the declared enemy is a force of nature. We may as well declare war on the cycles of the moon.”

18. Feminism

A Room of One’s Own18.1 Virginia Woolf – A Room of One’s Own

About the Author: The seventh child in an affluent stepfamily of eight – her mother was a Pre-Raphaelite model and her father a distinguished intellectual and agnostic – Virginia Woolf is commonly considered not only one of the undisputable colossi of modernism, but also one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century.

The author of some of the most sublime and lyrically-enthused English-language novels in history (Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Orlando, The Waves), Virginia Woolf was – to paraphrase a plaque honoring her on a King’s College building bearing her name.

A lifelong advocate for universal access to education, whose deeply-held feminism, pacifism and anti-fascism found deep roots in her unwavering belief that every individual should be granted intellectual freedom and the same amount of rights to the fruits of human culture and philosophy.

About the Book: Based on two lectures she delivered to the Arts Society at Newnham and to the Odtaa at Girton College in October 1928, and published exactly a year later, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf is not only one of the most important feminist texts in history (something very few people would question).

It is also the most beautiful and inventively written of the kind (something nobody would ever argue). Interspersed with a variety of memorably imaginative gems – the four Marys, Judith Shakespeare – Woolf’s main argument in this extended essay is a deceptively simple one: “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

In other words, just like Friedrich Hayek would a decade and a half later – in one quite different but as polarizing debate – Woolf argues that intellectual freedom stems from financial liberty and that, in the absence of the latter, all the male writers and artists in history would have been just as anonymous as the women coerced into sacrificing everything to raise them. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By dismissing for you the myth of the great poor poet and supplanting it with the legend of the would-have-been poetess if not poor; by showing you how women have served throughout most of history “as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size;” by

From the Reviews: “Next time you hear someone explaining that women are incapable of truly great art (be it poetry, literature, painting or music), this is the book to prescribe for them.” – Emily Wilson for The Guardian

A Relevant Quote: “Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for 200 years merely, but from the beginning of time. Women have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry.”

The Second Sex18.2 Simone de Beauvoir – The Second Sex

About the Author: Ironically still known in all too many circles as merely the lifelong partner and soulmate (in, for once, all the meanings of that word) of the central existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir was a French writer, thinker, and political activist, who left an indelible mark on the history of feminism and our modern understandings of gender identities.

An intellectually precocious child in a pre-war wealthy family struggling to maintain its bourgeois status in the interwar period, de Beauvoir was one of the most respected and influential thinkers in post-war Europe, winning both the Goncourt Prize in 1954 (for her remarkable roman à clef, The Mandarins) and the Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society two decades later.

About the Book: According to Jean-Paul Sartre’s celebrated 1945 lecture “Existentialism Is a Humanism,” existence precedes essence, i.e., we don’t live in line with a preestablished blueprint for a human, but we invent ourselves along the way; according to Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex – published only four years later.

If so, then women are duty-bound to reinvent themselves from scratch, because they have been driven into living second-class lives, consistent with a vision of the eternal feminine created by the men of the past millennia with an implicit (and sometimes unequivocal) objective to suppress the other sex and keep it subjugated for all times. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By introducing you to the sex and gender distinction which permeates contemporary identity politics; by teaching you that, if you are born a woman, you don’t have to become the woman men have constructed according to their own needs.

From the Reviews:The Second Sex was an act of Promethean audacity — a theft of Olympian fire — from which there was no turning back. It is not the last word on ‘the problem of woman,’ which, Beauvoir wrote, ‘has always been a problem of men,’ but it marks the place in history where an enlightenment begins.” – Judith Thurman for New York Times

A Relevant Quote: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

19. Fiction

In Search of the Lost Time19.1 Marcel Proust – In Search of the Lost Time

About the Author: Famous for writing some of the most meandering and elucidating long sentences in the history of literature, Marcel Proust was a French asthmatic dandy and neurotic homosexual who spent the last thirteen years of his life (1909-1922) writing a 3000-page book about the first three and a half decades of it (1871-1909) – so that he could justify their purposelessness and futility by turning them into a timeless work of art.

About the Book: In Search of the Lost Time is that 3000-page 7-volume book: its 1.2 million words could fit two King James Bibles in them! A highly autobiographical coming-of-age (and then some) novel, it recounts the personal experiences of an unnamed Narrator – “let’s call him Marcel” – from his childhood and the bond with his mother through his luckless love affairs and painful losses up to the moment an episode of involuntary memory inspires him to come up with the idea of the very book he’s writing. (Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By imparting on you the wisdom of taking a second look and the art of paying close attention to life. And that merely to begin with: Alain de Botton, in fact, has written a whole book in an attempt to give a satisfying answer to this question, quite straightforwardly titled How Proust Can Change Your Life.

From the Reviews: “Oh if I could write like that!” – Virginia Woolf

A Relevant Quote: “Love is a striking example of how little reality means to us.”

Nineteen Eighty-Four19.2 George Orwell – Nineteen Eighty-Four

About the Author: George Orwell (the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair) was an English journalist, essayist and novelist, whose experiences while fighting in the Spanish Civil War abruptly transformed his naïve belief in the communist world of tomorrow into a barrage of thunderous tirades against totalitarianism and shrewd apologies of democratic socialism.

About the Book: As everybody knows, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a chillingly bleak novel set in a dystopian world divided between three totalitarian super-states – Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia – the first of which is ruled by an omnipresent Party (and its possibly non-existent leader, the Big Brother) that employs the sinister strategies of the Ministry of Truth and the Thought Police to systematically oppress individualism and free speech. (Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By imaginatively showing you the ways governments and authorities manipulate you on a daily basis – and warning you where this all could lead to if you’re not paying attention.

From the Reviews: “Have you read it, Charles? Oh, you must. I’m reading it for the second time. It is a very remarkable book.” – Winston Churchill to Lord Moran, 19 February 1953

A Relevant Quote: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.” (Read more George Orwell quotes)

20. Practical

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up20.1 Marie Kondo – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

About the Author: One of “Time” magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2015, Marie Kondo is a Japanese tidying expert and, quite probably, the most organized person alive.

About the Book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up introduced the world to the KonMari method, a revolutionary category-by-category (as opposed to the more intuitive room-by-room) tidying technique, tightly embedded within a single, but powerful question: “Does this item spark joy?” Discard it if it doesn’t; keep it only if it does. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: As Kondo says herself, “a messy room equals a messy mind”; meaning this book should help you unclutter and organize both your house and your life.

From the Reviews: “How could this pocket-sized book, which has already sold over 2 million copies and sits firmly atop the New York Times Bestseller List, make such a big promise? Here’s the short answer: Because it’s legit… Kondo’s method really can change your life — if you let it.” –

A Relevant Quote: “The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”

How to Read a Book20.2 Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren – How to Read a Book

About the Authors: An Aristotelian philosopher with a doctorate in psychology, Mortimer J. Adler was a respected intellectual and educator, well-known for co-developing (with Robert Hutchins) the Great Books of the Western World publication project, proposing and devising the Paideia K-12 educational reform, and popularizing philosophy and free-market capitalism to the masses.

Son of writers Dorothy and Mark van Doren, Charles van Doren was notoriously involved in the Twenty-One game show scandal of the 1950s – made famous by the 1994 Robert Redford-directed and Academy Award-nominated film Quiz Show – after which he went on to live a reclusive life, writing and editing numerous books. Both authors served on the Board of Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica.

About the Book: Originally published in 1940 and heavily revised thirty years later, How to Read a Book sets before itself a somewhat challenging – but infinitely important – task: to mend the shortcomings of formal education which routinely spends countless hours teaching students the techniques necessary to solve a math assignment, but not one to tutor them in the most serious art of reading beyond ninth grade.

And it is preposterous to believe that merely being able to decode symbols from a page would help you understand Kant or Proust!

Adler and van Doren’s book elucidates not only the reasons for this but also the ways you can achieve a higher reading level (there are four) which will help you treat any book the way it deserves, regardless of whether it is non-fiction or fiction, poetry or science. (Read a brief summary of the book | Buy the book)

How It Can Change Your Life: By teaching you that reading is not about speed, but about understanding; by introducing you to different techniques which will help you properly connect the books you read with your mind and the ideas you gobble up with your memory.

From the Reviews: “These four hundred pages are packed full of high matters which no one solicitous of the future of American culture can afford to overlook.” – Jacques Barzun

A Relevant Quote: “A good book deserves an active reading. The activity of reading does not stop with the work of understanding what a book says. It must be completed by the work of criticism, the work of judging.”

How to Read a Book

Here Are a Few Honorable Mentions

  1. The 5 A.M. Miracle – Jeff Sanders
  2. The Miracle Morning – Hal Elrod
  3. How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie
  4. A Dash of Love – Jill Sanders
  5. Rainbirds – Clarissa Goenawan
  6. Educated – Tara Westover

Do you like my list of life changing books? Have I forgotten something? Would you like something to add or perhaps share your personal favorite?

Let us know in the comment section below.    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF:   

Want to Know More About Your Present: Learn from These History Books

Learn From These History Books

They say that history is the mother of all sciences.

Some people misunderstand this to mean that all other sciences have stemmed from the science of history.

But, that’s beside the point.

The real point is that, no matter which science you’re currently interested in, you can’t make any progress if you haven’t researched the progress those before you have already made.

So, if you want to understand your present better, reading history books is always a great start. Otherwise, you’ll end up repeating history.

In fact, that’s exactly how we introduced our previous top history books list. Consider this one both a reminder and a refresher!

In other words: if you want to learn –

Learn from These History Books

#1. “A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes” by Stephen Hawking

A Brief History of Time SummaryWe sometimes tend to forget that history didn’t begin with the human race.

Oh no!

As we shall see with our second entry on this list, in cosmic time, humans came on this planet just yesterday! And is there a better place to start your journey throughout history than its very beginning? Much before the humans came, much before our planet was created.

Yes – the very beginning. When there was absolutely nothing.

About 15 billion years ago.

Believe it or not, that’s exactly where “A Brief History of Time” begins. And there’s no one better than Stephen Hawking to tell you what happened next and how history unraveled up to this present day.

Take this book and start reading about the origins of our universe. Learn what the Big Bang was, and how is it that time and space are a continuum. See how much things such as quarks and gravity were important and why Einstein was wrong when it came to quantum theory.

And how quantum theory may be our best attempt to explaining away everything – absolutely everything there’s to know.

Ah yes – the Grand Unified Theory.

#2. “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens SummaryAs you will learn from Hawking, the Earth was created some 4.5 billion years ago. And men started inhabiting it about 300,000 years ago.

Now, when we say men – we don’t mean you and me. We’re talking about six different species of men! Just like there’s a polar bear and a grizzly bear, once upon a time, there was a Neanderthal and a Sapiens.

The latter one – now we’re talking about you and me – somehow prevailed. About 70,000 years ago. And from then on, this species went on to develop in such a manner that it currently governs almost everything on this planet (and, maybe, soon enough, in the entire universe).

In “Sapiens,” Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli historian, tries to understand how that happened. Because, once you think about it, it’s miraculous!

And Harari follows the miracle through the Agricultural Revolution of early humans, to the Unification of Humankind and the history of the Scientific Revolution.

And he doesn’t stop there: in the next book, Harari attempted to write a history of tomorrow. According to him, that’s a history of a new species: “Homo Deus.”

#3. “A History of the World in 6 Glasses: How Your Favorite Drinks Changed the World” by Tom Standage

A History of the World in 6 Glasses SummaryWe’re moving – inch by inch, step by step. Hawking gave us the macro-history of the entire universe; Harari the macro-history of humanity; Tom Standage gives us the macro-history of humanity’s favorite drinks.

Wait, what?

You’ve read it correctly!

A History of the World in 6 Glasses” isn’t, as Harari’s, a history of 70,000 years. But it is of some 6,000 or so. And it’s retold in 12 chapters, two chapters for each of humanity’s six favorite drinks: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola.

And reading this book is as interesting as you’d expect!

For example, where else would you find out that beer is, in fact, one of the main contributors to the creation of civilization? In fact, that’s exactly how it was described in “Gilgamesh” – “the drink of the civilized man.”

The culture of the Greeks spread so fast because of their wines – and you can find evidence for this in the myth of Dionysius!

The Age of Exploration might not have happened if people weren’t so thirsty for sugary spirits. And – who would have thought? – the French Revolution actually started because there were suddenly many coffeehouses in Paris!

The Boston tea party started another revolution you are certainly aware of. And “Coca-Cola” is basically how you say “globalization” in a drink!

#4. “From Silk to Silicon: The Story of Globalization Through Ten Extraordinary Lives” by Jeffrey E. Garten

From Silk to Silicon SummarySpeaking about globalization – now, how would you want to hear its history retold in ten extraordinary lives?

You’re in luck if you do!

That’s exactly what Jeffrey E. Garten, in the aptly titled “From Silk to Silicon,” sets out to do! And he does – exceptionally well!

For Garten, globalization started about a millennium ago – with a tyrant and a globalized trading network. The former is Genghis Khan; the latter – the Silk Road. Then came Prince Henry the Navigator who introduced slavery to Europe.

Mostly on the shoulders of slaves, the third person on Garten’s list, Robert Clive, built the first global brand: the East India Company. Afterward, Mayer Rothschild changed modern banking altogether. Cyrus West Field – global communication: he was the man who laid the first telegraph cable across the Atlantic!

You already know John D. Rockefeller – at one point, he was all but richer than the US government. Jean Monnet envisioned the European Union – which wasn’t exactly what Margaret Thatcher believed in. To her, free market was the be-all and end-all.

Deng Xiaoping wasn’t as radical – but he introduced free markets within China’s communist society. And, finally, Andrew Grove used its philosophy to create the Silicon Valley.

#5. “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Team of Rivals SummaryCheck any list you like (and Wikipedia has all of them): Abraham Lincoln is the most revered and loved US President in history. Both by scholars – and by the general public.

He strived to end slavery – and he managed to unite America. And he did it all during the most tumultuous period of American history.

Unsurprisingly, “Team of Rivals” by Pulitzer-Prize winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin is exactly about that period. Mainly about the political genius of Abraham Lincoln – but also about few other men who served in his cabinet between 1861 and 1865.

And get this: three of those people ran against him in the 1860 election!

Well, that’s exactly what Goodwin terms as Lincoln’s genius. Creating a cabinet which mixed both opponents and supporters alike was a masterstroke decision. And possibly the only one which guaranteed Lincoln authority to tackle problems as serious as slavery and Civil War.

And, as Jonathan Haidt advises, it may be the only decision which can stop the polarization of the American nation today.

#6. “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin” by Timothy Snyder

Bloodlands SummaryA revered Yale historian, Timothy D. Snyder is one of the leading authorities on the Holocaust and Central and Eastern European history.

Published in 2010, his sixth book, “Bloodlands” won the Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought and was described by “The Economist” as “revisionist history of the best kind.” And, really, reading it will make you wonder if you remember history correctly!

Neal Pease described it best when he wrote: “Many books are useful; a handful can be called important. ‘Bloodlands’ does no less than change the way we think of 20th century history, and of the deadly human cost of the totalitarian utopianism that was among its most distinctive characteristics.”

Totalitarian utopianism has more than one name: Nazi Germany and Soviet Union. True, their leaders, Hitler and Stalin, were vicious enemies – World War II was basically a war fought between them – but they shared one similar disinterest when it came to the people living in the area between them.

And that area – Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic states – is what Snyder refers to as “the bloodlands.” Because there, 14 million innocent non-combatants were killed. And to them – it didn’t matter whether the perpetrator was a Nazi or a Socialist and whether he won or lost the World War…

#7. “The Road to Serfdom” by Friedrich von Hayek

The Road to Serfdom SummaryTimothy D. Snyder has the luxury of hindsight. In fact, today everybody knows that both utopian visions of Europe (Hitler’s and Stalin’s) ended up being more dystopian than Orwell’s visions.

When he was writing “The Road to Serfdom,” Friedrich Hayek – a Nobel Prize and an FBA award winner – could have only known that Hitler is on the wrong side of history. But in this book, he argued that Stalin is as well. And that most of Europe might end up there if it isn’t careful.

What frightened Hayek back in 1944 was something everybody believed was fairly good at the time. Namely, the control governments had over their countries’ economies. But, Keynes was deemed the savior of capitalism after his measures successfully alleviated the Great Depression.

So, why was Hayek, a staunch defender of classical liberalism, so bothered and afraid?

Well, because he thought that the only way a country can guarantee the freedom of the individual is by allowing the free market to work its magic. And that Nazi Germany was made possible exactly because people believed the other way around.

And on many accounts, Hayek was right. Even though the whole world criticized him at the time. Though, he may have made a mistake or two as well.

Read our summary to find out why and where.

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Final Notes

There are many ways to understand your present. Anything from perusing the newspapers on a daily basis, to reading current books on physics. However, there’s probably no better way to get to the root of the current problems than knowing their history. So, if you want to learn everything about your present – learn from these history books!    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF:   

Do the Right Things in the Right Order with Our Top Productivity Books

Top Productivity BooksYou’ll probably agree that we’re not very wide off the mark in proposing a fairly simple definition for productivity: “doing more in less.”

However, it seems that no matter how much we do in no matter how little time, there’s always something left on our to-do list.

So, what’s the problem?

Well, most of the people would tell you that you have to find a better technique. Some others – as the ones we’ve included on our list – will tell you something else.

Namely, that there’s more than one secret to productivity, and that productivity should not be about doing everything on your to-do list.

Maybe it’s should be about doing the right things in the right order.

So, without further ado –

Our Top Productivity Books

#1. “The Motivation Manifesto: 9 Declarations to Claim Your Personal Power” by Brendon Burchard

The Motivation Manifesto SummaryIf you’ve ever watched “Oprah”, you probably already know that Brendon Burchard is one of the “most influential leaders in the field of personal growth.” And he’s probably the most successful and highest-paid motivation trainer in history.


Well, not because he says something original. But, because everything that he says, he says it in such a manner that makes you jump out of your bed and start doing something. Well, not just something – exactly those things that he asks you to do.

The Motivation Manifesto” is one of the best productivity prerequisites. Keep it under your pillow. And learn its 9 declarations by heart – and start putting them into practice right away:

We shall meet life with full presence and power! We shall reclaim our agendas! We shall defeat our demons! We shall advance with abandon! We shall practice joy and gratitude! We shall not break integrity! We shall amplify love! We shall inspire greatness! And we shall slow time!

#2. “Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time” by Brian Tracy

Eat That Frog SummaryIn the introduction to one of his numerous bestsellers, “Eat That Frog,” Brian Tracy explains the curious title straight away. He writes: “Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.”

For what it’s worth, it may not have been Twain – but Nicholas Chamfort. But, either way – the point stands. The great thing about it is that it’s only 1 of the 21 Brian Tracy is trying to make.

The other include “plan every day in advance” and “prepare thoroughly before you begin,” as well as “consider the consequences” and even “practice creative procrastination.” Nothing especially new or not known, but everything worth repeating and remembering – and inspiring throughout.

Especially great as an introduction!

#3. “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg

Smarter Faster Better SummaryBefore you say anything – we didn’t know which of Charles Duhigg’s books to choose either. And the only reason why both of them aren’t here (of course we have “The Power of Habit” in mind) is our dedication to the “one author/one book” ideal.

And, after all, we did include “Smarter Faster Better” among our top entrepreneurship books. So, we were kind of obliged to include it here as well!

In “Smarter Faster Better,” Duhigg thoroughly explores eight productivity concepts. Each of them essential to establishing the habits of a productive person. The eight concepts are: motivation, teams, focus, goal setting, managing others, decision making, innovation, and absorbing data.

But what may interest you more than the theoretical discussion is the Appendix: “A Reader’s Guide to Using These Ideas.”

No peaking!

#4. “StrengthsFinder 2.0: Discover Your Strengths” by Tom Rath

StrengthsFinder 2.0 SummaryNow, this is an interesting case.

Now, Discover Your Strengths” was such a great book that it found place both among our top management and top motivational books.

Well, “StrengthsFinder 2.0” is its update!

Written by Tom Rath, the book builds upon the work of the Don Clifton, the father of Strengths Psychology. The main idea behind it: there are 34 strengths and each individual is a unique combination of at least two of them!

How does this help you in terms of productivity?

In at least two ways! First of all, the book is linked to an online assessment tool which we’ll help you find your key strengths. Secondly, once you find them, it will help you realize how you can use them.

Because productivity is not about spending countless hours to develop strengths you don’t own. It’s about perfecting those you already have.

After all, you won’t try and teach a fish to fly, would you?

#5. “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity” by David Allen

Getting Things Done SummaryCarola Endicott, director of “Quality Resources,” says that David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done” should come with a warning sign.

Its content:

“Reading ‘Getting Things Done’ can be hazardous to your old habits of procrastination. David Allen’s approach is refreshingly simple and intuitive. He provides the systems, tools, and tips to achieve profound results.”

OK – Endicott may have gone a little overboard with the “simple” part. We warn you that “Getting Things Done” is “jargony” enough that it includes its own “Glossary of Terms.”

But, there’s a reason why “Lifehack” calls it “the modern Bible of productivity books” and why its philosophy has as many followers as a small religion. (Really: they are called GTDers!)

And the reason is simple: it works!

#6. “Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More” by Jason W. Womack

Your Best Just Got Better SummaryYour Best Just Got Better” is a book which can help you become exactly what its title claims to be. And the path is there – in its very subtitle.

So, Jason W. Womack’s philosophy is as simple as 1-2-3!

1: Work Smarter!

“Duh?!”, you say. “But how?”

It’s simple as having an IDEA and a MIT. Or, in other words, as simple as remembering these acronyms and doing what they say you should do: identify, develop, experiment, and assess. While never forgetting your Most Important Things.

2: Think Bigger!

No more than four mantras should do the trick: “I did it before,” “They were able to do it,” “They think I can do it,” and “I know I can do it!” (Read our great summary to see how.)

And 3: Make More!

What you need so as you can make more is a feedback. In all of these areas: results, experience, contribution, measurement, service, and habits.

That’s it: your best just got better!

#7. “The Code of the Extraordinary Mind: 10 Unconventional Laws to Redefine Your Life and Succeed On Your Own Terms” by Vishen Lakhiani

The Code of the Extraordinary Mind SummaryMost of the books about changing your life and productivity habits are few-step manuals. And, naturally, the inclusion of “The Code of the Extraordinary Mind” on our list begs the question: why is this book so different than the rest?

Well, Vishen Lakhiani’s style – just like his laws – is unconventional. Down-to-earth, inspiring, well-structured. And – memorable!


Like it or not, you’ll catch yourself using its neologisms over and over again. You’ll understand them, however, only if you read the book. And, soon after – believe us – you’ll start using them.

First, you’ll want to transcend your culturescape – and, while doing that, you’ll see that you’ve been raised on brules. But, by the time you reach the seventh law – living in a blissipline – you would have already bended reality so much that you’ll be a king or a queen of a world of your own – a sort of a yourscape.

#8. “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” by Stephen R. Covey

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People SummaryThe ones who read – know: Stephen R. Covey is a frequent guest on lists such as this one. And “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” – the first non-fiction book to sell 1 million copies of its audio version – is practically a mainstay in many different categories.

Unsurprisingly, we’ve listed it among our top leadership and top self-help books.

So, what’s so special about it?

Well, almost everything!

It’s well-researched and well-planned, simply written and is perennially applicable. Covey deduces that effective people are different than the rest because they share seven habits. Namely, they are proactive, they begin with the end in mind, and they put first things first; also, they have a win-win mentality, they seek first to understand, then to be understood, and they synergize; finally, they sharpen the saw.

The first three habits are related to their independence; the second three to their interdependence. The final – self-improvement – is the bridge.

But, wait – there’s one more!

#9. “Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions” by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths

Algorithms to Live By SummaryIf you feed your computer with enough information about a certain topic, you’re guaranteed that you’ll get the right answer, right?

But, if so – why aren’t we doing the same with our lives? Surely, there has to be some way to scientifically figure out whether it’s better for the tired me to do some more work tonight, or just relax and watch something on Netflix!

Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths are right there with you! There is, they say – and more than one, in fact! So, they have prepared for you a unique cheat-book, “Algorithms to Live By.”

What you’ll find out inside may amaze you. True, life may be a complex category, but some of our habits are actually simple. For example, there seem to be three simple algorithms to perfectly manage your time.

And one to find your perfect love!

#10. “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport

Deep Work SummaryThe world is full of distractions. So many, in fact, that it’s hard to think what is distraction anymore? Namely, are Facebook and Twitter distracting us from work – or is work distracting us from Facebook and Twitter?

That will not do, says Cal Newport!

Leisure is leisure, but work is work! And when it is real work, it needs to be “Deep Work.”

And, according to Newport, deep work begins with embracing boredom and quitting social media. You think that Beethoven wrote the “9th Symphony” in a night, or that Michelangelo drew the Sistine Chapel before lunchtime?

No – they worked deeply for a long period of time! And they valued deeply deliberate practice and distraction-free environments.

Don’t believe us?

Then ask yourself this: why do so many writers go to the library to write?

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Final Notes

If productivity is doing the right things in the right order, then the books which will help you discover which are the right things for you and which is the best order to do them – are the top productivity books you can find on the market.

And we believe that these 10 fit the description better than any others.    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF:   

8 Books That Will Change How You Think

books that make you thinkIn general, we all live in a small little world, designed to support our goals and vision. Truthfully, this little thing that we call “mind” – is actually the end product of our thinking patterns.

On numerous occasions, the world has shown that these thoughts and emotions come only as a result of our belief system. As you can see, their trustworthiness is at stake, and one must take a strong defensive stance to protect its shallow limitations.

At what cost? – Perhaps, the society ought to awake from a deep sleep and see the big picture. The cultural, religious, national and traditional background have an essential role in developing a person’s mindset.

Experts and self-aware gurus tackle ignorance with tips that are easily applicable and acceptable to most people. However, few don’t want to follow this example and stick to their foolish ideas and superficial beliefs.

In this article, we would like to list a dozen books that will ultimately trigger a new behavior, and hopefully transform you into a happy and self-confident person.


Books That Will Change How You Think#1. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

We unconsciously underestimate the influence of random events that shape our lives and determine our future. “Fooled by Randomness” explains why you shouldn’t so quickly disregard the impact of luck and embrace the uncertainty.

In this book, you will be introduced to the idea of changeableness and hopefully open your eyes to the possibility that you can’t govern everything. Nassim Taleb also goes into detail about decision-making and how sometimes randomly selected groups can outsmart intelligent individuals.

books that changed the way you think#2. Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective – Mark Epstein

Mark uncovers the basics of Buddhist teaching and targets Westerners. Monks throughout centuries have been considered as the ultimate force against depression and anxiety. Find your inner reality; stop running around absent purpose, just adapting to different environments.

Thoughts Without a Thinker” gives a new logic to the world and clears up some misleading concepts that contribute to unhappiness. With such force ragging towards you, it’s best to be on the lookout for proven techniques and options.

books that changed the way you think#3. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink

First, “Drive” focuses on maintaining total control of human behavior, especially at work. To evoke such mindset, Daniel recommends the usability of the well-known risk/reward system to stimulate productiveness and confront laziness.

With this model in mind, many companies drive their employees forward by adjusting the system to their practices and policies. A well-written plan can be decisive in the battle against competitiveness among workers and crucial when it comes to fulfilling the company’s vision.

books will change way you think#4. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain

Both introverts and extroverts play a significant role in helping the society to create value for its members. In every environment, you can find various personalities that have proven their worth to the world with their ideas and potential.

When reading “Quiet” by Susan Cain, you will receive in-depth knowledge about the differences between these two groups, and how we can turn this into our advantage. Instead of opposing varieties, we must embrace and convert them into an acceptable form of life.

best books on thinking#5. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness – Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein

Who knows what is hiding in the future? – Sometimes we act as though we have all the information. In truth, this notion gives you only a sense of false security that ultimately fails to prove its point. The most challenging part is for us to resist the manipulation emerging from external factors that try to control your movement.

Nudge” emphasizes the value of these tendencies and promotes a healthy way of opposing them. With a bit of practice and sincerity, you can really get the better of them and hopefully achieve happiness without having to adjust to anyone or anything.

books that changed your perception#6. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – Carol S. Dweck

Mindset” is a book that is written to describe how our limitations and beliefs define our way of life. If you can’t cope with your self-imposed ideas that you have about yourself, you’ll end up stuck, without room for progress.

Some persons nurture an inflexible attitude that brings them all sorts of sadness. Without openness to various scenarios, you will always be on the verge of emotional breakdown. Developing a “growth” mindset takes time and patience, but it sure is worth it.

books change the way you think#7. Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill

In the past, becoming rich was a privilege only for a small circle of people, who had access to various information and top education. Nowadays, when wealth is no longer a hereditary matter, we all share pretty much the same opportunity of finding it.

As money seekers, we must adjust to the digital age, and exploit our full potential. Seize the day – they say, but what’s the real meaning? – It indicates that you should not waste your time doing things that produce little worth and start operating with precision and dedication.

best books about thinking#8. The Power of Positive Thinking – Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

Dr. Peale, again and again, places emphasis on the power of faith when conducting any activity. He implies that you must believe in victory, before reaching it. In a race against time, Norman presents practical tips that are underlined in “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

Your ambitions must be matched with the right dose of hope and realistic incentives. By reading it, you’ll understand how to:

  • Believe in yourself, regardless of the circumstances
  • Ignite that inner power from within
  • Develop a new plan for reaching your goals
  • Improve your relationships with other people
  • Disregard the worry habit and strive for peacefulness and relaxation
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself

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Books That Will Change How You Think

Final Notes

Our thoughts are the greatest weaponry we got to defend ourselves against harmful influences.

If you feel a yearning for reaching the desired destination, perhaps you should change your mindset entirely, before you proceed.    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF:   

5 Books That Will Change Your Life

5 Books That Will Change Your LifeEvery once in a while, we feel stuck in the madness of today. Wars, mainstream media, and hostile groups are trying to impose certain opinions and consequently control our behavior. These forces are proven to be highly effective in the efforts of creating an “obedient” social groups that are driven by fear.

All of these elements contribute to the development of a depressive community that doesn’t have a sense of itself. In pursuit of sanity, one must be willing and qualified to cope with these influences that are striving to dictate our movement.

Nonetheless, many enlightened gurus and experts on human behavior try to persuade the public to oppose these harmful forces by enforcing some basic ground rules that we must follow. In general, this clash between science and belief comes at the expense of ordinary people, who are once again manipulated.

We outline our favorite “Books That Will Change Your Life,” and hopefully bring light into a dark hallway.

5 Life Changing Books

#1. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment – Eckhart Tolle

Books That Will Change Your LifeEckhart Tolle books are not just life-altering but mind-blowing. He absorbed the role of a “crasher,” which metaphorically illustrates an energetic, and dedicated person whose aura destroys anyone’s mental limitations. It’s like inviting a robber into your home, to get you rid of all the unnecessary stuff.

It’s for your own good. However, not many individuals are prepared to take such drastic measures. Nobody wants to abandon the comfort and plunge into dangerous waters.

The Power of Now” emphasizes the present moment, as the only absolute thing that ever existed. How many of us are misled with various types of meditations and practices that are only dragging us down even further?

In truth, one must embrace the fact that the only thing that is keeping us away from this moment, is our ego. This book will surely open your eyes and expand your horizons.

books that will transform your life#2. Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom

Buddha’s Brain” doesn’t necessarily cover the physical aspect as much as it focuses on the mental state. The dark rule prevails over sanity even today. To oppose these destructive ideas, a new “brain” emerged from the ashes to share wisdom and love among all beings.

Our brains are prone to change; science in conjunction with spirituality tries to resolve this dilemma, and hopefully grant everyone the opportunity to see the world from a new perspective. If you are curious about how thoughts emerge and how they disappear then, you should definitely give this book a try.

By merging modern scientific discoveries and ancient wisdom, you might be able to experience firsthand, the breakthrough in the fight against ignorance. These insights will give you the edge and the grounds to pursue further knowledge and expansion in the field of mindfulness.

Books That Changed Your Life#3. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman

At first, many people seemed very confused with this concept, since the only thing that mattered was our sharp thinking. The aftermath of lacking appropriate teachers such as Daniel Goleman contributed to the development of selfishness and egoic behavior.

Emotional Intelligence” sets in motion a new plan that combines psychological elements and intelligence for the purpose of developing a deadly combination to ease off the climb and enhance personally and professionally. Self-esteem as always is the most critical ingredient for reaching prosperity.

Now, we have to share some great news with you!

Self-awareness and self-help can be stimulated with the right approach, and yet many people remain stubborn and stick to their mindset. In truth, awareness represents our innate nature, and as such, it is witnessing all others phenomena from within, including the emotional outbursts.

So, before you put your trust in the superficial IQ, take a moment and see who is greater.

Life changing books#4. Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica

How often do you feel the societal chains wrapped around your neck? Do you feel the pressure? – By now, you realized that the community sets a few starting and stopping points, which serve as a rulebook that everyone must follow or risk failure.

Many people have woken up and realized that their whole life was a mere illusion. Instead of pursuing their dreams, they chased someone else’s projections. “Finding Your Element” is a good way to oppose these forces and set your own tempo by which you will control your efforts.

“I have to get married by the time I’m 30”, or “I should obtain my college degree by the time I’m 23” – these are all shallow notions that you must reject. Follow your heart, and hopefully, you will find luck and happiness wherever you might be.

5 Books That Will Change Your Life#5. How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie

Discover what is keeping you away from exploring your full potential by:

  • Eradicating all the needless activities
  • Reduce the financial stigma attached to your mind
  • Improve productive by motivating yourself
  • Don’t allow external factors to influence your well-being
  • Spend at least one hour each day in peace with yourself
  • Focus on what is surrounding you, stop chasing the future

To free yourself from the bondage called “tomorrow” and “yesterday” one must embrace all the essential traits and implement the right solutions. Keep in mind that if there’s one thing on Earth everyone should be grateful for is uniqueness. Nobody out there is like you, so don’t live their lives nor try to fulfill their expectations.

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” handles the never-ending thoughts, emotions, and ideas that control our behavior. As an easy-read with a high level of applicability, we recommend it to the broader audience.

The easy-to-digest style will further stimulate acceptance of life as it is and trigger positive thinking.

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5 Books That Will Change Your Life

Final Notes

Life is a marathon, and surely, we cannot find a good hiding place that will save us from the obstacles along the path.

However, there are some books that will change your life – like the list above; which is worth taking into consideration.    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF:   

Best Psychology Books on Human Behavior

 Best Psychology Books on Human BehaviorBest psychology books about human behavior have always been subjected to numerous discussions by various behavioral experts. Nevertheless, the real formula is yet to be discovered. In the struggle of today, we are worried about the “tomorrow,” and nothing comes close to having a great ally in those battles – such as your mind.

When the world is set on massive changes and enhances, and it’s virtually reached a boiling point, the only thing left for us is to discover how to turn these phenomena to our advantage.

Even though it takes time and patience, if you have the necessary tools and the help of a real content master such as GetNugget, you have nothing to worry about finding the right set of psychology books on human behavior.

We pick our favorites books on behavioral changes that will provide universal coverage of this story.

“Best Psychology Books on Human Behavior”

Top Psychology books#1. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

Once the world stops, you begin. Such metaphor illustrates the impact of your split-second-decisions that are often biased. Malcolm Gladwell turns his attention to the interaction that shapes our behavior and mindset.

In his book, he places special attention to the mastery of separating the secondary from the primary. In other words, you are forced to act upon your beliefs and judgments, but there’s another way. Whatever comes to light is only a reflection of your behavior.

For instance, first impressions are critical unlike other conversations; where the unconscious mind commands the eye contact and non-verbal communication. Arguably, the ability to improve your decision-making is strongly linked to our mindset.

Malcolm Gladwell argues that improving this aspect is highly possible and affects our lives. With a little bit of training and proper expertise, one can become a better person all around. Blink is filled with great ideas that will encourage each and every one to apply new practices and methods for solving misconceptions.

good books psychology#2. Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini

Probably, one may think that the influencing someone is done to inflict or impose some mindset to another person. However, the power to persuade sometimes comes at a higher cost, with a sense of responsibility that brings a new dynamic and hopefully evokes transformation.

Generally speaking, even “inspiration” is one segment of influencing others, because the verbal interaction is not the only incentive for people to alter their behavior. Although the thinking patterns are related to our cultural background, there is always room for endorsing new methods and theories that are contradictory to our belief system.

Robert B. Cialdini wrote “Pre-Suasion” to lay the groundwork for influencing other individuals, not to offer a guideline that will improve your oratory skills. So, before you warm up for the big day, make sure you got all the essential tools at your disposal.

Planning is pivotal in this regard, and one must take into consideration all the elements that go with it. Once you get the big picture, your ideas and practices will be well-received by the wider audience.

Books on human behavior#3. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

For instance, many people consider talent as the only critical ingredient that one “delicious” success recipe cannot go without. Malcolm on the other hand, opposes this theory and disregards its impact but not to full extent.

If you carefully analyze his ideas and anecdotes, you’ll realize that nothing beats hard work. However, Malcolm doesn’t neglect innate abilities and know-how either and pays extra attention to maximizing the impact. So, good psychology books such as “Outliers” are in the middle and balance these two opposing viewpoints.

Don’t be too hard on yourself, is one of the things you must embrace. Although, adopting a cautious attitude is essential, being flexible and open to anything is critical. This book will explain why successful people are pursuing greater success, and why luck is on their side.

books on human psychology and behaviour#4. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink

First and foremost, the author of “Drive” gives an enormous priority to controlling the human behavior at the workplace. The good, old-fashioned risk/reward system is put into practice because it generates law and order that improves productivity and eliminates laziness.

Many modern companies, still administer the same ideas with specific customization that apply to their practices. Driven by an all-mighty blueprint; the firms are more than ever in need of motivation and determination that matches the company’s vision.

How people react in different environments and circumstances will always remain a mystery. Your job is to find that leadership know-how and convey the same passion to the associates under you. Motivation is sometimes done with the help of public recognition.

Not always a financial reward is pivotal for enhancing productivity. Praising your employees should come naturally to you, Daniel even says that a quick tap on the shoulder can give a huge motivational boost that can later convert into something tangible.

Best Psychology Books#5. The Psychology of Winning: Ten Qualities of a Total Winner” by Dr. Denis Waitley

If at some point you felt down in the dumps, you are a perfect candidate for adjustment and inner-transformation. Many individuals thrive on challenges, others on love, what’s your status? Self-projection is key to higher self-esteem because the world doesn’t feel sorry for you.

If you are down-hearted and spiritless, or if you sense that your inner being is torn up by external influences, you must embrace a radical transformation. Winning is nothing innate; it’s earned. Successful people yearn for wins, and they never settle for second place.

The top psychology books stimulate such growth, which is practically done in a gruesome fight against one’s inner enemy. These forces that are pulling you down must be faced. It’s a pity that you became a slave to your own mind, and now it’s time to regain possession as the undisputed ruler of your kingdom.

Define your goals, set your tempo and enjoy the success that comes afterward.

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Final Notes

To sum up, it’s pretty evident that our behavior merely reflects the emotional situation. If you feel depressed, you must insist on undergoing some dramatic behavioral reforms that will enable you to shift from person-based to open-minded individual.    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF:   

Best Nonfiction Books of All Time

Naturally, our first idea for our final list – best nonfiction books of all time – was making “a best of the best” list. After all, we already made for you no less than 16 lists, and choosing the best book of each of them would have been a perfect finale to our wonderful list-making journey of the past year.

(Which, by the way, we hope you enjoyed it at least as much as us.)

However, halfway down making such a list, we realized that there were so many great books we didn’t have a chance to include anywhere else. So, we decided to make a U-turn! Instead of compiling books from our lists, we decided that each of our top nonfiction books should be a unique entry.

Yes, that meant that this list would be bereaved of many highly deserving classics. From the top of our heads: “The Diary of a Young Girl”, “Night” or “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (top biographies), “Civilization and Its Discontent” (top psychology books), “Capitalism and Freedom” and “The General Theory of Employment, Interest, And Money” (top economics choices) or half of our top history books.

But, it also meant that we’ll provide you with 15 more reviews of 15 more exceptional books by 15 more exceptional people. Although, we would have wanted to include at least as many even here.


#1. “A Dictionary of the English Language” by Samuel Johnson

A Dictionary of the English Language SummaryContrary to popular belief, this is not the first dictionary of the English language. However, it is certainly both the most influential and the most admirable one. As Walter Jackson Bate wrote, Samuel Johnson’s “Dictionary” “easily ranks as one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship, and probably the greatest ever.”

No, this is not a biased opinion! And a simple comparison may be the only argument you’ll ever need to read as evidence.

Namely, the Académie française took 55 years and the dedication of 40 scholars to complete their Dictionnarre; it included about 30,000 words. Samuel Johnson spent 8 years to compile a list of 40,000 words. And all were thoroughly defined and meticulously illustrated with over 114,000 quotations!

And he did it all – by himself!

There’s nothing even remotely similar to Johnson’s endeavor in all of human history! His dictionary was so good that was unanimously considered the preeminent work of its kind for almost a century and a half, until the “Oxford English Dictionary” came out.

Bonus: some of the definitions in the dictionary are really funny! Such as “Lexicographer: a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original and detailing the signification of words.”

#2. “Critique of Pure Reason” by Immanuel Kant

Critique of Pure Reason SummaryBarely thirty years after Samuel Johnson transformed the way people think about the English language, German philosopher Immanuel Kant transformed the way people think about – well, anything. A miraculous achievement, considering the fact that Kant almost never left his hometown, the city of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad).

First published in 1781 – before being revised six years later – “Critique of Pure Reason” attempts to give an answer to the question “how do we know.” A question as old as time, you might say, but a question with so many answers before Kant as well.

Kant didn’t like this, so he tried to explain away the confusion and put an end to all speculation once and for all. However, he didn’t want to resort to some easy answers, such as the skepticism of René Descartes and David Hume. So, he went on to develop about a thousand-page long theory of the relationships between pure reason and human experiences.

And, magnificently, philosophers worldwide agree that he did quite a good job. Although, to be perfectly honest, some time passed before anyone understood what Kant was saying.

Bear that in mind if you ever want to leaf through its pages. You’ll definitely need some help.

#3. “The Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

The Communist Manifesto Summary1848 was one of the most tumultuous years in human history. Revolutions broke in over 50 countries around the planet, and almost each and every one in Europe. Objective historians have rightly dubbed 1848 as the Year of Revolution. The more hopeful ones have opted for a more poetic title: People’s Spring.

Well, a month before the actual commencement of that year’s spring (February 21, 1848), Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published a very brief political pamphlet which would go on to change the course of human history.

Widely considered the most influential text of its kind in history, the three-part “Communist Manifesto” is a summary of Marx and Engels’ ideas about the nature of society and politics.

The first part, “Bourgeois and Proletarians,” states from the outset the main premise: “history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” The second part, “”Proletarians and Communists,” lists and explains the measures necessary to achieve a classless society. Finally, the third part “Socialist and Communist Literature,” sets apart communism from other similar doctrines.

Some love it; others despise it. Nevertheless, the ideas presented in “The Communist Manifesto” have been hotly debated ever since its publication.

And will be – for any foreseeable future.

#4. “Walden; or, Life in the Woods” by Henry David Thoreau

Walden SummaryIn 1845, Henry David Thoreau – then merely 28 years of age – left behind the materialist America of his time to live a life of seclusion and solitude in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s country cabin near Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts.

He stayed there for two years, two months and two days. And nine years later, he gave the world his account of his experiences, “Walden,” a book so influential that, as John Updike noted it “risks being as revered and unread as the Bible.”

If you’ve ever watched “Dead Poets Society,” you probably already know its (a bit jumbled-up, though) introduction by heart: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

What you may not know, however, is that “Walden” is the most radical way in which Thoreau tried to practice his ideas of civil disobedience. Expounded more thoroughly in another essay of his, the concept – and “Walden” – would influence figures as diverse as Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

A book for all the ideologists out there. For all times.

#5. “On Liberty” by John Stuart Mill

On Liberty SummaryJohn Stuart Mill was raised to be a genius; so, he became one of the greatest of his, or, for that matter, all times. He contributed to so many areas of human knowledge that he is often considered to have been “the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century.”

However, his short book titled “On Liberty” seems to have stood the test of time like no other of his books. It’s still widely read and widely commented. A copy of the book, for example, is regularly passed to the new president of The British Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Party as a symbol of his office.

Written as an attempt to apply Mill’s favored philosophical doctrine (utilitarianism) to the state and society in general, “On Liberty” analyzes the relationship between governments and individuals, and between authority and freedom. It tries to uncover where one’s freedom ends and where someone else’s begins. And, finally, it tries to show how we can remain democratic without falling victims to an unexpected “tyranny of the majority.”

Just like any of the books on this list, “On Liberty” has been as much lauded as it has been criticized. However, just like them, it’s also still thought-provoking and debated. A testament to its greatness.

#6. “On the Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin

On the Origin of Species SummaryThe same year Mill published “On Liberty,” one man published a book which will largely overshadow its significance. A book which – some may argue – has overshadowed almost every single nonfiction book ever written, bar one or two it rubs its shoulders with at the peak of the pedestal.

The full title of the book: “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.” You already know the author: Charles Darwin.

Written for the general public – so as to attract more attention – “On the Origin of Species” argued something nobody had ever dared before. Namely, that living organisms have a common ancestor and that their diversity is the result of random selection.

No gods, no divine will. Merely Mother Nature, in all its haphazard glory.

It’s practically impossible to overestimate the effects Darwin’s theory would have on every living person. And when twelve years later Darwin would apply the theory of evolution he devised here to humans, the circle would be completed.

Because “The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex” would be the first book to argue that humans are not an exceptional species.

And that – there’s so much humbleness and beauty in this finding.

#7. “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” by Ludwig Wittgenstein

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus SummaryAustrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was such a colorful person that a short biography would do no justice to either his life or his larger-than-life personality. For now, suffice to say that he is considered to have been “the most perfect example… of genius” even though he published just one fairly slim book during the 62 years he was given to live and think on this planet.

And that volume is “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” – in all of its 80 pages and 526 numbered statements.

Written during the period of the First World War, the “Tractatus” is comprised of no more than seven main propositions, each as seemingly comprehensible as thoroughly inscrutable as the next one.

Want to have a go?

Here is the first one: “the world is everything that is the case;” it’s followed by seven sub-propositions which may help you understand it; or not. Either way, they won’t prepare you for the second one: “What is the case (a fact) is the existence of states of affairs.” Cue 79 apparently elucidating statements. (Click here for the whole structure.)

Now, you’re probably wondering how then the “Tractatus” ended up being on our list?

Well, because almost every single sentence of it has been scrutinized and/or challenged by almost any thinker who matters. Not the least – by Wittgenstein himself. A bit strange if you take into consideration that, at the time he published it, he claimed, in a Kantian manner, that the “Tractatus” had solved all philosophical problems.

Even stranger in view of the last – and by far most famous – of his seven propositions. This one’s a beauty: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

#8. “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf

A Room of One’s Own SummaryIt was precisely something many had remained silent about that an English modernist writer by the name of Virginia Woolf wanted to speak about in 1929. And in “A Room of One’s Own” she did. In her familiar exuberantly fluid, and sumptuously beautiful prose. A lifetime interest for her – style – wasn’t as important this time around.

It was what she wanted to convey through it. A message which echoed through time and space. It isn’t just to her talent to summarize it in a sentence, but, since it’s hers, will be unjust. “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

As axiomatic as it may sound nowadays, when Woolf wrote it, it was both frowned upon and as radical as a political manifesto.

However – and fortunately – it set the foundation for feminism; and, through it, for women’s rights. Because Woolf was the first one to ask the right question. It’s not “why have there been no talented women artists and scientists up to the nineteenth century”; it’s: “why no talented women artists and scientists ever got the chance to employ their talents?”

We already quoted her fairly straightforward answer above.

#9. “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell

The Hero with a Thousand Faces SummaryWhen it was published in 1949, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” was one of the most thorough analyses of how similarly world mythologies have shaped the stories of their heroes’ journey to greatness. In the meantime, it has also become a sort of a manual for creating long-lasting works of art.

You probably don’t know it, but whether it’s “Star Wars” or “Harry Potter,” “Watership Down” or “Beauty and the Beast” – they all consciously owe their structure to Joseph Campbell’s investigations and his idea of the monomyth. Borrowed from Joyce, Campbell uses this word to speak about the fundamental architecture of the archetypal hero’s journey. And he summarizes thus:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

Of course, there are many episodes interspersed with this narrative, but, even those are shared throughout cultures. Why? Because we’re all humans and because some stories are buried deep within our subconscious.

“The Hero with a Thousand Faces” strives to uncover the arche-stories. While warning us that if we ever forget them, we’ll forget being humans as well.

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#10. “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan

The Feminine Mystique SummaryVirginia Woolf may have been the first one to remind women that they are as much as humans as men. However, Betty Friedan was the author who really shook women to their core, waking them from centuries of stony sleep. And showing them the way to a world where women can be equal to men.

Published in 1963, “The Feminine Mystique” is widely considered to have been the book which launched second-wave feminism. It was originally intended to be an article about the results of a survey Friedan conducted of her former Smith College classmates on their 15th-anniversary reunion. But, nobody wanted to publish the article. So, Friedan authored a whole book.

As she famously put it herself, about “the problem that has no name.”

You see, what Friedan discovered is that most of her friends were unhappy. Contrary to popular belief, what made them unhappy was the fact that they were expected to be wives and mothers.

And – herein lies the nameless problem – nothing more.

And each suburban wife, wrote Friedan, struggled with this problem alone. “As she made the beds, shopped for groceries… she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — ‘Is this all’?”

Friedan was sure it couldn’t be. And she gave voice to all the women who shared her feelings.

And the world changed.

#11. “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil” by Hannah Arendt

Eichmann in Jerusalem SummaryA Jew who left Germany soon after Adolf Hitler’s rose to power, Hannah Arendt is considered one of the most significant modern political philosophers. So influential is she that – as many would argue – the book we’ve chosen for our list isn’t the one she’s most famous for. That one is, in fact, “The Origins of Totalitarianism” where she carefully examines the roots of Nazism and Communism.

However, we went here with “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” a book smaller both in length and in scope; but, in our opinion, also a book whose conclusions are much more related to the human nature and, thus, much more relevant and frightening.

Based on Arendt’s “New Yorker” reports about the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, the book famously argues that Eichmann, one of the organizers of the Holocaust, was not a gruesome monster, but merely averagely intelligent “joiner.”

Or, in other, much more worrisome words, a person just like anybody else. He boasted of no exceptional intelligence or hatred, and he wanted to belong to some community.

But therein lies the rub: it was exactly because of people like him that the Holocaust was made possible. Evil has no movie-like qualities, and you can’t really detect it the way you can detect a serial killer in a slasher movie.

As Arendt famously said, evil is banal. And almost anyone, under the right circumstances, can become its agent.

#12. “Orientalism” by Edward Said

Orientalism SummaryAll humans belong to the same species. However, it seems that cultural differences have created chasms between them. Only recently we started understanding the greatest one, the West/East schism.

And it couldn’t have been written by anyone else other than Edward Wadie Said, a public intellectual born in Jerusalem to a Palestinian father and Lebanese mother, and raised and educated in Cairo at a British Anglican Christian school. All in all, by his own admission, “an uncomfortably anomalous student.”

But, “Orientalism” stemmed out of this discomfort. It strives to describe the cultural representations of some Eastern cultures (Asia, North Africa, Middle East) in the works of the authors who belong to the Western literary canon.

The results themselves are nothings short of expected. Predictably, Western writers never saw the inhabitants of these places as people of real flesh and blood, but as underdeveloped caricatures residing in an exotic world of myths and legends.

However, the consequences are far-reaching. According to Said, in time, the ruling elites in these Eastern societies realized that they could use these stories to exert authority and influence over their subjects. So, they internalized the Western narratives – and actually started turning into what they were wrongly portrayed to have been.

So, “Orientalism” is not only about culture and literature. It’s also about power and freedom.

#13. “The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA” by James D. Watson

The Double Helix SummaryThere are not many events in modern history that can compare – both in terms of instant impressions and eternal effects – to the publication of a single two-page article in the 171st volume of the scientific journal “Nature” on 25 April 1953.

Titled “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid” and signed by Francis Crick and James D. Watson, the article has been variously described as a scientific “pearl” and as “the most important scientific discovery of the 20th century.”

Could it be any different?

What the article first described was the double helix structure of the DNA. Or, to put it in laymen’s terms – there, on these two pages, lay the answer to one of science’s fundamental mysteries.

The origin of life.

Fifteen years later, one of these two scientists, James Watson, wrote “The Double Helix”. An intimate autobiographical account of the discovery of DNA, “The Double Helix” was voted the 7th best nonfiction book of the 20th century by the Modern Library, and was placed on Library of Congress’ list of the 88 “Books That Shaped America.”

Important and immensely popular, the book has inspired a fair share of controversies as well. Which, of course, makes the book even more appealing.

#14. “A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes” by Stephen Hawking

A Brief History of Time SummaryWe really wanted to include a book by Einstein or Newton in our list; however, we opted for Stephen Hawking. And that already says a lot about how much we value the British physicist and his most celebrated book.

However, the reason why we preferred Hawking to Einstein or Newton is a blatantly obvious one. Namely, during the past two decades, “A Brief History of Time” has sold more than 10 million copies. You can’t say that about many books – let alone scientific treatises.

Because, even though it’s bereaved of the technical jargon associated with similar books, “A Brief History of Time” is still a serious study about serious matters. Such that go even beyond the questions answered by the discovery of DNA.

In it, Hawking writes about the origins and the eventual death of our universe; about concepts such as the Big Bang, time-space continuum, quarks and gravity; and, finally, he discusses two different theories which try to explain the existence of the universe – Einstein’s theory of general relativity and quantum physics.

Nobody has ever succeeded in bringing the world of cosmology and astrophysics as close to the general public as Hawking. And, unsurprisingly, in 2002 BBC poll, he was voted the 25th Greatest Briton of all time.

#15. “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Sixth Extinction SummaryThe most recent entry on our list is one we felt we had to include in spite of it being published in 2014. Because we want you to take its subject matter as seriously as a heart attack. And because, in a way, “The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert talks about some things which, if you don’t, there will be no writers left to write, and no readers to compile lists like this.

A winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, “The Sixth Extinction” argues that we are currently in the middle of a modern extinction process. However, unlike the previous five, this one’s man-made. Consequently, it’s also preventable.

However, the extinction will probably not be prevented, because, as Kolbert shows, humans are in a state of absolute denial. She compares this denialism to the one pre-Darwinian people had in view of prehistoric mass extinction. Most of them simply didn’t believe that any event could be powerful enough to wipe down a whole species from this planet.

Now, we know for sure that they were wrong. Unfortunately, we have invested enormous amounts of energy to – well, repeat it.

The result? Kolbert demonstrates that, if our estimates are correct, almost half “of all living species on earth” may be extinct by the end of 21st century.

Bleak? In need of immediate action?

Well, that’s what books can do.

And why we need lists like this one to guide us through the libraries of history.    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF:   

Top Biographies Books

There are so many biographies, memoirs, and diaries out there, and so many essential and influential people who have actively shaped our world that, really, choosing the books for this list took us a lot more time than actually writing it.

In the end, we longlisted so many books that we decided to leave out some of the more usual suspects. In our defense: we have included each of them in some of our other lists; and you can read our opinion about them there.

Of course, we’re talking about classics such as “Titan” and “Elon Musk” (featured in our top business books list, at #3 and #4), “Alexander the Great” (#3 in our top history books), or our personal favorite, Skidelsky’s “John Maynard Keynes” (#4 among our top economics books).

And even with these four out of the picture, it took some time to settle on the following 15. So, who knows, maybe we won’t resist the urge to make an additional best biographies booklist!

But, until then – here are our top biographies books.

#1. “The Twelve Caesars” by Gaius Suetonius

The Twelve Caesars SummarySuetonius (full name: Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus) lived through the last third of the first and the first third of the second century after Christ. He was a close friend of Pliny the Younger and for the last few years of his life worked as a private secretary to Hadrian (yes, the emperor with the wall).

While there, he wrote a group biography of Julius Caesar and the first eleven emperors of the Roman Empire, originally called “De vita Caesarum,” (literally: “About the Life of the Caesars”) but known to us by the much more straightforward title “The Twelve Caesars.”

The leaders whose lives are covered by Suetonius are the following: Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. And the order in which each biography is retold illustrates Roman discipline at its best: appearance, omens, family, quotes, life.

You’ll find everything here: decadence and lewdness, greatness and madness. And oh so much ancient purple-prosed yellow press!

#2. “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects” by Giorgio Vasari

Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects SummaryThey say that the Renaissance was a period which required giants to happen at all; and it was giants it got. And in Giorgio Vasari’s “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects” it also got their dedicated official biographer.

Considered by many “the first important book on art history” and “perhaps the most famous, and even today the most-read work of the older literature of art,” “The Lives” would prove to be Giorgio Vasari’s most lasting monument; and this speaks volumes of the importance of the work; because, you see, Vasari, like most of the people he wrote about, was also an accomplished architect and painter.

The list of the Old Masters whose lives are concisely recounted by Vasari is too long to be included in a short review, but, let’s just say that if he’s an Italian and an artist with some fame before 1568 – you’ll definitely find his biography here.

Interspersed – why, of course! – with some entertaining gossip and a notorious lie or two.

#3. “The Life of Samuel Johnson” by James Boswell

The Life of Samuel Johnson SummaryConsidered by most historians “the first modern biography” in the English language, “The Life of Samuel Johnson” is hailed by many as the greatest biography ever written.

A colossal work of almost 2,000 pages, the book combines three things that seem prerequisite for the greatest of biographies. Namely: a fascinating man, a religiously devoted close friend of his, and an exceptionally capable diarist.

Of course, the first of these three descriptions refers to Dr. Samuel Johnson, “arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history”. The foremost English critic of his time, Johnson was also a genius lexicographer who singlehandedly wrote one of the best dictionaries of the English language. And he did it in merely eight years!

The latter two are accounts of James Boswell, a Scottish writer whose name has become a common noun, with the meaning “an assiduous and devoted admirer, student, and recorder of another’s words and deeds.”

We dare you to find a best biographies booklist where you won’t find this one. And ours will certainly not be the exception.

#4. “Eminent Victorians” by Lytton Strachey

Eminent Victorians SummaryAnother classic – and another group biography!

Lytton Strachey was one of the founding members of the Bloomsbury Group, an intellectual clique which existed during the first half of the 20th century, and which, in terms of its unconventionality, sexual freedom, and sheer creativity, may have no parallel whatsoever in all of human history.

In fact, their behavior may seem scandalous even today; and their ideas are still widely studied and admired.

Written during the years of the First World War, “Eminent Victorians” was such a sensation that brought Strachey instant fame. The book deals with the lives and deeds of four Victorian figures (Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Arnold, and General Gordon) considered epitomes of moral virtue before the book; but, not after.

That’s, in fact, why the book is praised so much even a century after it was first published. Because, if James Boswell’s biography was a work of devotion, Lytton Strachey’s was a work of irreverence.

And the best of today’s biographies have a little of each.

#5. “James Joyce” by Richard Ellmann

James Joyce SummaryIf you know Richard Ellmann only by his works, you’ll probably never guess that he’s an American, let alone the son of a Jewish Romanian and a Ukrainian immigrant.

Why, you ask?

Because, basically everything he ever wrote was either an essay, a critical study, or a classic biography on one of the three most eminent Irish writers of the modern age, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Years, and James Joyce.

The biography of the one listed last – simply titled “James Joyce” – has been described by Anthony Burgess as “the greatest literary biography of the century.”

Written over a period of ten years and over 800 pages long in its final revision, the book is a fresh, earnest, and critically penetrative insight into the mind and the work of possibly the most influential writer of the 20th century.

But, also – just so you don’t feel too diminished in comparison – a man with many flaws and some pretty strange sexual fetishes.

#6. “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank

The Diary of a Young Girl SummaryPossibly the most famous autobiography, “The Diary of a Young Girl” is also one of the most gut-wrenching and heartbreaking stories ever put on paper.

It’s a book you certainly already know all too intimately to require a list of accolades as evidence for its place here. But, even so, in the face of so much stubborn historical revisionism, we feel obliged to at least link a few inclusions of Anne Frank’s “Diary” among the top books of the 20th century, whether they come by way of a nation-wide UK survey, New York Public Library’s estimations, or the general world public’s ratings.

There’s really no need to delve into the story here. Not because you probably already know it, but because It’s not a good idea to summarize something as fragile and nightmarish as “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

And because it’s the book everybody should reread in its entirety from time to time. So as we never forget how cruel humans can be to other humans. And, maybe, some day in the future, learn to be somewhat better to each other.

#7. “Night” by Elie Wiesel

Night SummaryNo, it’s still not the right time to rise above the depths of despair. Anne Frank’s “Diary” may be the most famous book on the subject, but it’s only one of many. And we wanted to be just to the victims and witnesses of one of the most horrifying events in human history; since, destiny, obviously, wasn’t.

And, according to Elie Wiesel, a Romanian-born American Jewish writer, God wasn’t as well. In “Night,” a severely abridged version of an almost 900-pages-long manuscript in Yiddish, he writes about his experiences as a prisoner in Auschwitz and Buchenwald, during the last two years of the Second World War.

Born in 1928 and barely half a year older than Anne Frank, Wiesel – later a Nobel Peace Prize winner – was just fifteen when he and his family were deported to Auschwitz. There, among many other things, he became a father to his father, who was, in turn, reduced to childlike helplessness in the face of this tremendous adversity.

His father, just like the rest of his family, died. Wiesel survived. To tell his story.

#8. “Hitler: A Biography” by Ian Kershaw

Hitler SummaryAnd the man most people hold responsible for the death of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel’s family?

Adolf Hitler, Nazi Germany’s dictator during the Second World War.

Fascinating for all the wrong reasons, the Führer has inspired so many books that Wikipedia has a separate article about them. However, at least in the English-speaking world, many would probably agree that Sir Ian Kershaw is the foremost expert on Hitler and Nazi Germany. And that his “Hitler: A Biography” is the definitive one-volume account of his life.

The book is, in fact, a compilation of few other books that include “Hitler” in their titles and that Kershaw wrote during a period of almost four decades. “New York Times” described it as “superb”; and Niall Ferguson called it “magisterial”.

Over 1,000 pages long and breathtakingly remarkable from start to finish, “Hitler” is also fully illustrated, including over 150 wartime photographs and 8 more than useful maps. You’ve guessed it: a must-read.

#9. “Churchill: A Life” by Martin Gilbert

Churchill SummaryAnother biography written by a person exceptional enough to be knighted about a man with as many chivalric orders as you’ll ever see put next to a name. And it’s only natural that we follow up Sir Ian Kershaw’s account of Hitler with Sir Martin Gilbert’s biography of his nemesis, Churchill.

A prolific author of nearly 90 books, Gilbert is deservedly most famous today for his eight-volume biography of Sir Winston Churchill, expectedly voted the Greatest Briton in history in a 2002 BBC poll.

But, just like in the case of #8, we don’t want to bother you with such an epic – although, people say it’s more than worth it – so we list here “Churchill: A Life,” the boiled-down version of the complete chronologically broken-down biography.

It’s still gigantic (1,000 pages), but, it’s about one of the giants of the 20th century. However, it’s so dramatic and intimate, and so vividly written, that you won’t be able to put it down.

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#10. “Einstein: His Life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson

Einstein SummaryOf course, there are always good things happening around; and this seems even truer in the case of the worst atrocities.

So, while politicians and soldiers were struggling to save what they could from the world they had senselessly plunged into two ravishing wars beforehand, scientists and artists were silently trying to change our whole perception of it – and, with it, ourselves as well.

Albert Einstein, a German-born theoretical physicist, is widely held to have been the man who spearheaded the most groundbreaking scientific revolution of the 20th century. His theory of relativity challenged basically everything we knew about the world. And, just like in the case of Boswell, transformed Albert’s surname into a common noun.

Its meaning is, of course, “genius.”

What made him one is the question the acclaimed 2008 biography by Walter Isaacson tries to answer. And, in a way, it does – in Isaacson’s clear and witty style we have grown to love so much over the years.

#11. “A Moveable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable Feast SummaryOne of the most widely read and as widely loved American authors of the 20th century, Ernest Hemingway, didn’t live to see his Paris memoir “A Moveable Feast” published and showered with praises by literary critics and general readers alike.

As it’s already known, he shot himself in the summer of 1961, some three years before his fourth wife Mary Hemingway allowed the publication of his manuscripts.

And, boy, what a great service she did to everyone enamored with Hemingway or Paris. Not to mention modernist literature or the roaring twenties!

Detailing his time as an expatriate in France between the two World Wars, this memoir is basically a who’s who in the world of Anglo-American emigrants. On its pages, you’ll find everyone from Joyce and Stein to Picasso and Pound; and, of course, most famously, the Fitzgeralds.

Need we add – there’s also a lot of brew and brawls, and even more scandal and extravagance. And, oh, such gems as hair-growing contest with Gertrude Stein and, well, a different kind of measuring contest with Fitzgerald.

We’ll leave it to you to find out more about it.

#12. “King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero” by David Remnick

King of the World SummaryAmerican journalist David Remnick won a Pulitzer Prize two decades ago for “Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire,” his wonderful historically accurate (and eye-witnessed) account of the fall of the USSR. And in view of this achievement, “King of the World,” written five years later, has remained somewhat in the shadow.

Which is a pity, because, as Tim Lewis writes, it may be the best sports biography one can find. The subject is worthy of such description: Muhammed Ali, both a boxing legend and a larger-than-life political activist.

King of the World” is actually about the year – and the fight – when we can retrospectively deduce that it all started. As Remnick shows, when Cassius Clay entered the ring with Sonny Liston on a February night in 1964, most people thought of the fight as “a matchup between a Muslim punk and a terrifying thug.”

But once he left the ring, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Ali was not merely the new heavyweight champion. He was something more: “a new kind of black man.”

One that was about to fly out of its prison cell.

#13. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings SummaryAnd five years later, as Ali was fighting his four-year-long battle against the system which forcefully tried to draft him for a war he didn’t want to participate in, the African American poet Maya Angelou published the first part of her seven autobiographies, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

Detailing her life from the age of three to the age of sixteen, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is Maya Angelou’s deeply disturbing, and yet profoundly inspiring coming-of-age narrative. It illustrates, in captivatingly lyrical language, the traumatic effects which racism and sexism can leave on a black American girl growing up in Arkansas, and the power of poetry which can, nevertheless, provide a reason to stay alive and move on.

Angelou’s friend James Baldwin described it best; and we feel an obligation to quote him. “’I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,’ he wrote, “liberates the reader into life simply because Maya Angelou confronts her own life with such a moving wonder, such a luminous dignity.”

#14. “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs SummaryThere are probably few people who can be considered icons of the 21st century as much as Steve Jobs, the co-founder and CEO of Apple Inc. And there is not one biography of his life comparable to the one Jobs ordered himself.

Written by Walter Isaacson, “Steve Jobs” is based on more than forty interviews given by Jobs himself, and hundreds made by Isaacson with at least as many members of his closest and somewhat distant social circles. In addition, Isaacson had an “unprecedented” access to Jobs’ life; and a promise by the man himself that his interviewees will speak to him earnestly.

In fact, Jobs was a gentleman enough to waive his right to read the book before its publication; and that finally happened merely 19 days after Steve Jobs decided to, well, log off.

The book was turned into a film in 2015. And just as the book, it also received rave reviews.

#15. “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer

Into the Wild SummaryThe last book on our list was adapted into a movie as well. Both are good – but, as usually, we prefer the book.

Written by American writer and mountaineer Jon Krakauer and published in 1996, “Into the Wild” chronicles the life and travels of Christopher McCandless who, after graduating from Emory University in 1990, decided to donate all of his money to charity, to change his name into Alexander Supertramp, and spend the rest of his life living as a hiker and traveler.

After a two-year journey across North America, he renounced even the remaining few of his earthly possessions. And started living as simply as possible – off the land. Unfortunately, merely four months later, hunters found his decomposing body. Based on its condition, they concluded that he died of starvation.

“Into the Wild” tries to understand the logic behind McCandless’ choices. But it doesn’t shy away from giving us a heartbreaking portrayal of a  profoundly enigmatic person. Mesmerizing.    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF:   

Top Management Books

The discipline of management is “one of the greatest social innovations of modern times”. In fact, the idea of managing processes is so ubiquitous and pervasive, that Peter Drucker, “the founder of modern management,” considers managers nothing short of the present and future torchbearers of ethics and morality.

You can read why he thinks that in our review of one of the two books we included in our top management books list. We believe that the other thirteen are as important and famous, as influential and eye-opening.

And we don’t want to lose you another second of your time before we introduce our picks for the 15 best management books in history.

#1. “The Principles of Scientific Management” by Frederick Winslow Taylor

The Principles of Scientific Management SummaryIn 1913, V. I. Lenin, the man who would go on to start a bloody revolution four years later, wrote in “Pravda” that “the most widely discussed topic today in Europe, and to some extent in Russia, is the ‘system’ of the American engineer, Frederick Taylor.”

What Lenin was referring to was a 1911 monograph titled “The Principles of Scientific Management,” a highly influential work during the period of the Progressive Era (1890-1920), written by a man whose life mission was improving industrial efficiency, Frederic Winslow Taylor.

Even though the essay expounds theories which would grow obsolete in the meantime, generally the book’s influence is highly regarded even in the 21st century. In fact, in 2001, the 137 Fellows of the Academy of Management voted it the most influential management book ever written.

And some of its main ideas are still hotly and commonly debated. Such as the suggestion that shorter workdays may still increase productivity. What do you think?

#2. “The Functions of the Executive” by Chester Barnard

The Functions of the Executive SummaryDuring the same Academy of Management survey which voted “The Principles of Scientific Management” the most influential management work in history, Chester Irving Barnard’s 1938 classic “The Functions of the Executive” came in second.

Considered “the first paradigmatic statement of the management discipline,” “The Functions of the Executive” presents “a theory of organization and cooperation,” much in the same manner as Taylor. However, the big difference between them is that Barnard didn’t want to merely prescribe principles; he wanted to study those already practiced and compare them to each other to discover the best practice.

Divided into four parts and eighteen chapters, Barnard’s book is a somewhat difficult read. Just looking at the titles of the parts is enough. The first one, for example, is called “Preliminary Considerations Concerning Cooperative Systems”; the last one: “The Functions of Organizations in Cooperative Systems.”

However, have no doubts whatsoever that, in this case, looking past the “atrocious” style is more than worth it.

#3. “The Essential Drucker” by Peter Drucker

The Essential Drucker SummaryBorn in the Austro-Hungarian Empire few years before it dissolved, Peter Drucker, “the most influential and widely read authority on modern organizations,” had the invaluable privilege to be raised in a household where intellectuals, scientists, and leaders regularly met to discuss their views and ideas.

If you’re wondering about their names and reputations, just have a look at our top economics booklist: any Austrian you’ll find there (and there are few), Peter Drucker personally knew even as a child.

In the final Academy of Management list of most influential books, Drucker’s 1954 “The Practice of Management” was listed third and called a “seminal contribution” to the field. However, for our list, we opted for two different books, even though, really, Drucker is so omnipresent that we’ll always stand by our recent estimation that he is “as important to companies, as oxygen is crucial for our survival.”

The Essential Drucker” is a carefully compiled collection of the 26 most important writings by Drucker, and, as such, is an essential read for every manager.

#4. “Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices” by Peter Drucker

Management SummaryIf you’ve studied management at almost any university, the chances are this was one of the first – if not the first – book you were assigned as a compulsory read.

Originally published in 1973, “Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices” is still the best management manual almost half a century later. And it’s so all-encompassing and diligently organized that it’s difficult to see how any other book can take its place.

Developed and written during a period of over three decades, “Management” draws heavily on Peter Drucker’s experience as a management professor and consultant to government agencies, and large and small businesses. In fact, you can consider this book a distillate of his life. There’s everything here! From basic management tasks to best management practices.

But, don’t ignore Drucker’s pleas for business ethics either. “In modern society,” he writes, “there is no other leadership group but managers. If the managers of our major institutions, and especially of business, do not take responsibility for the common good, no one else can or will.”

#5. “What Management Is: How It Works and Why It Is Everyone’s Business” By Joan Magretta

What Management Is SummaryThe blurb to “What Management Is” may sound a bit pretentious, but, trust us, it exaggerates nothing. “Not since Peter Drucker’s great work of the 1950s and 1960s,” it says at one point, “has there been a comparable effort to present the work of management as a coherent whole, to take stock of the current state of play, and to write about it thoughtfully for readers of all backgrounds.”

And when it says “all backgrounds” – trust us yet again – it really means so! At no more than 256 pages, Joan Magretta has managed to achieve a rare feat. Namely, to write a book which may attract the interest of both novices and experienced managers; teaching the former the basics and providing the latter with encyclopedically organized body of knowledge.

The beginners will additionally love the simplicity with which Magretta explains complex management ideas; and, even more, the clear, concise, and straight-to-the-point style. As “The Econimist” review put it best: “a rare animal: a management book that is lucid, interesting and honest.”

#6. “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently” by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

First, Break All the Rules SummaryIn 2011, “Time Magazine” made a list of “The 25 Most Influential Business Management Books.” We bet few would have been surprised to see there Marcus Buckingham’s and Curt Coffman’s brilliant “First, Break All the Rules.”

Published by Gallup, the book is based on the largest management survey ever undertaken, encompassing 80,000 interviewed managers from over 400 successful companies. Buckingham and Coffman asked each of the managers 12 simple questions; then they thoroughly studied the answers. The results are staggering: almost none of the old management techniques actually work in practice.

What does work?

Well, first of all, treating employees like individuals capable of doing seriously difficult work; and focusing on their strengths rather than their weakness; however, all the while not believing that with training everyone can do what he or she sets his or her mind to.

It seems that setting specific outcomes works; but – believe it or not – refraining from setting specific processes does as well. Disregarding the golden rule – is the golden rule.

And much, much more.

#7. “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton

Now, Discover Your Strengths SummarySo much more, in fact, that Marcus Buckingham went on to write another work, a companion-piece to “First, Break All the Rules”. This time with a new co-author – American psychologist Donald O. Clifton, – but using the very same methodology. And, based on the titles, we have a feeling that this one’s was in preparation even before the first one was published.

We already featured “Now, Discover Your Strengths” in our top motivational books, but we think it belongs here as well. Based on a gargantuan survey by The Gallup Organization, the book quantifies the answers 1.7 million interviewees gave to several questions, and deduces the 34 distinct “talent themes” (or traits), the combinations of which can best describe an individual’s uniqueness.

And after helping each reader to find his specific strengths – via Gallup’s online resource – “Now, Discover Your Strengths” offers many practical advices on how to advance and employ them.

Updated as “Strengths Finder 2.0” in the meantime, this book can teach managers to get the best out of their employees, and employees get the best out of themselves.

#8. “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t” by James C. Collins

Good to Great SummaryIn our microsummary, we described “Good to Great” as “one of the best management books to ever see the light of day. So, obviously enough, we include it in our list of top management books in history.

Published in 2001, “Good to Great” tries to answer the question why some good companies succeed in becoming great, while others simply fail making the leap mentioned in the title. And, just like our two previous books on this list, “Good to Great” is not merely a theoretical exposé, but is based on an expansive 5-year study.

But, then again, if you know anything about its author, Jim Collins, you would have known that from the start.

Ultra-successful book and selling more the 4 million copies, “Good to Great” compares eleven great companies to their merely good counterparts (e.g. Philip Morris             vs. R. J. Reynolds) and discovers seven characteristics which the former had and the latter didn’t.

And let’s face it: who wouldn’t want to know them?

#9. “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras

Built to Last Summary“Good to Great” was published in 2011 and, as we wrote above, received enormous amounts of attention. However, it wasn’t without a precedent: by that time, in fact, Jim Collins would have already made his name as one of the leaders in the field with “Built to Last.”

Originally published in 1994, “Built to Last” is, once again, based on a wide-ranging six-year research project at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. Its two main goals – in its authors’ words – were ““to identify underlying characteristics are common to highly visionary companies” and “to effectively communicate findings so they can influence management.”

And “Built to Last” lives up to both of these high expectations.

By carefully studying the ideas and the practice of 18 widely admired companies founded before 1950, “Built to Last” provides valuable insights into the management habits of these great companies and deduces what made them so exceptional by comparing them to their top competitors.

Defining and seminal, “Built to Last” lives up to its title.

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#10. “In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies” by Thomas Peters and Robert H. Waterman

In Search of Excellence SummaryPublished in 1982, “In Search of Excellence,” brought Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. so much attention that even though it was their debut book they quickly got nation-wide coverage and some flattering epithets of the “business guru” kind.

Three decades later, it’s obvious that the initial evaluations were correct. “In Search of Excellence” is still considered a management manual.

Started as a study of 62 businesses, it ended up as a thorough analysis of the management practices in the 43 best-run companies in the United States. By carefully examining the available data, Peters and Waterman discovered that the companies which succeed share eight common characteristics.

And “In Search of Excellence,” they dedicate a chapter to each. Unsurprisingly, in the meantime, these eight traits have become basic principles of management.

Dubbed the “Greatest Business Book of All Time” by “Bloomsbury UK,” “In Search of Excellence” is the fourth best-selling management book in history, trailing only Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and the books at #4 and #8 on this list.

#11. “Competing for the Future” by Gary Hamel, C. K. Prahalad

Competing for the Future SummarySoon after its publication, in a review for “Washington Post,” Steven Pearlstein wrote that “if there is room for only one management book on your reading shelf each year”, “Competing for the Future” is his 1996 choice. “Business Week” backed Pearlstein’s decision, claiming that it’s “one of the year’s best management books.”

Exciting and profoundly valuable, “Competing for the Future” is written by two renowned thinkers on strategy, Gary Hamel and Coimbatore Krishnarao Prahalad. And it strives to give “would-be revolutionaries” the tools to challenge “the protectors of the past.

As any book written for rebels, it challenges many of the notions about management prevalent at the day; if you think that most of them are commonsensical now – well, you owe it to Hamel’s and Prahalad’s expertise.

And you certainly do think that strategic planning is a continuous process and that it is something that has to encompass the whole organization, and not just some sectors, right?

#12. “Six Thinking Hats: An Essential Approach to Business Management” by Edward De Bono

Six Thinking Hats SummaryYou can really argue that Edward de Bono is one of the most famous exports from the tiny island nation of Malta. Psychologist, philosopher, physician, and inventor, he is the man who invented the concept of lateral thinking, i.e. solving problems creatively.

And “Six Thinking Hats” is the book where he first proposed the idea.

Published in 1985, “Six Thinking Hats” devised a thinking system which strives to eradicate the most serious problem of thinking: confusion. De Bono demonstrates that confusion stems from the fact that we’re never thinking clearly, or, rather, that we’re always using many aspects of our being to think.

So, he suggests a role-playing method which clarifies how thinking works, by splitting the process into its six comprising elements.

The red hat is the emotional one, while the white one shows interest in facts only; the black one is the devil’s advocate, while the yellow is the optimistic hat; finally, the green hat is the hat of creativity, and the blue one – the hat of the manager.

Employed by many companies even today, de Bono’s three-decades-old tool has proved a lasting success!

#13. “The Great Game of Business: The Only Sensible Way to Run a Company” by Jack Stack

The Great Game of Business SummaryThis is a book about an inspirational story.

Springfield Remanufacturing Corporation was founded in 1983 by 13 employees of International Harvester. In an attempt to save 119 jobs, they decided to buy the part of the company which rebuilt truck engines. How? With $100,000 of their own money. And about $8.9 million in loans!

Led by Jack Stack, the employees turned the things around, and the initial stock price of $0.10 in 1983 had increased by almost 2,000 times and was worth over $199 per share in 2015.

And we still haven’t gotten to the most interesting part of the story! You see, Jack Stack had neither experience nor an idea how to manage a company!

So, how did he do it?

The Great Game of Business” explains what he did in detail, introducing to the world the fairly new concept of “open-book management.” Its main premise, especially in view of capitalistic doctrines, is staggeringly innovative.

Namely, Springfield Remanufacturing is not managed by one person, but by everybody. In other words, everyone has his or her say on each financial decision and all company matters.

And – well – somehow it works brilliantly!

#14. “Out of the Crisis” by W. Edwards Deming

Out of the Crisis SummaryOriginally published by MIT Center for Advanced Engineering in 1982 as “Quality, Productivity, and Competitive Position,” this W. Edwards Deming’s classic was republished in 1986 under its much more friendly current title, “Out of Crisis.”

The book, included in both “Time Magazine’s” “and Academy of Management’s” lists of top 25 most influential management books in history, is widely credited with introducing the concept of Total quality management, even though Deming never actually uses the term in the book.

However, he does offer 14 key principles to managers which articulate TQM in both simple and still operational manner.

Ranging from ideas about the necessity of improving constantly and forever to suggestions that breaking down barriers between departments is a must, from calls to put an end to inspections to requests to drive out fear from the workplace, “Out of the Crisis” has transformed many companies in the past four decades.

And will certainly transform you once you find the time to read it.

#15. “The One Minute Manager: The Quickest Way to Increase Your Own Prosperity” by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson

The One Minute Manager SummaryThe subtitle of this book – “the quickest way to increase your own prosperity” – seems like an understatement when compared to the title – “The One Minute Manager.”

Of course, those who expect to become good managers in one minute expect a bit much. But, even they might be absolutely flabbergasted by the fact that Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson need no more than a hundred pages to expound upon a simple management concept which ended up influencing thousands of companies.

And especially by the main premise of the book: one minute to a manager may be an exaggeration, but three minutes is just about right!

A sleeper hit in the 1980s, “The One Minute Manager” is, in fact, a fable explicating a management-by-objectives type of managing which is based around the idea an effective manager sets one-minute goals, and sets aside one minute for praising and one minute for reprimanding his employees.

A business bestseller ever since its publication, “The One Minute Manager” is, both literally and metaphorically, a small wonder.    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF: