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
Wildcard

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)

Drive
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)

Switch
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 gapingvoid.com) 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)

Grit
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.

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The Hero with a Thousand Faces PDF Summary

The Hero with a Thousand Faces PDFQuick: what do Osiris, Prometheus, Buddha, Mohammed, Jesus, King Arthur, Luke Skywalker, Frodo and Harry Potter have in common?

Answer: Everything.

They are all variants of the same story.

Joseph Campbell has all the details.

And he shares them under a beautiful and fairly suggestive title: “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.”

Who Should Read “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”? And Why?

“The Hero with a Thousand Faces” combines Joseph Campbell’s revolutionary understanding of mythology with Jungian psychology in a way which makes both of them not just comprehensible, but also irresistibly alluring.

However, even more than people involved or attracted by either discipline, the book should interest novelists and screenwriters, since Campbell breaks down the universal myth of the hero in a way which makes his scheme usable as the background for almost any work of art.

Don’t believe us?

George Lucas used Campbell’s scheme to write “Star Wars.”

About Joseph Campbell

Joseph CampbellJoseph Campbell was an American mythologist and author.

Born in New York City in 1904, he was educated at Columbia University in medieval literature, before continuing his studies in Europe, Paris, and Munich specifically.

Here, influenced by the work of Freud and Jung, the art of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, and the literary works of James Joyce and Thomas Mann, Campbell developed an interest to pursue the study of Sanskrit and Modern Art, something which his alma mater rejected.

Even though this meant that he would never obtain a Ph.D., in 1934, he became a Professor of Literature at Sarah Lawrence College, a position which he held for the next 38 years, until 1972.

He died fifteen years later, just a few months after completing the widely revered series of interviews with Bill Moyers, “The Power of Myth.”

“The Hero with a Thousand Faces PDF Summary”

The basic premise of “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” is remarkably simple: every important myth you can think of shares the same fundamental structure.

And the reason why this shouldn’t strike anybody as odd or fascinating is even simpler: myths are manifestations of humanity’s deepest (and, thus, usually unconscious) urges and needs, fears and desires.

And since humans everywhere share the same psychology, the myths of many cultures through many different times must be the same as well.

Of course, it’s easy to say such a thing and much more difficult to prove it.

Hence, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” which not only lays out the structure of the monomyth (in its first part) and the cosmogonic cycle (in its second part) but also offers hundreds of different examples from hundreds of different cultures as evidence to back the scheme.

Since the first part is the much more interesting and influential part of the book – borrowed from Joyce, “monomyth” is Campbell’s term for the underlying scheme of the hero’s adventure – we’ll leave the cosmogonic cycle out of our discussion for now, and, hopefully, extend our summary in the recent future.

Let’s begin with Campbell’s summary of the basic structure of the hero’s journey:

The usual hero adventure begins with someone from whom something has been taken, or who feels there is something lacking in the normal experience available or permitted to the members of society. The person then takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary, either to recover what has been lost or to discover some life-giving elixir. It’s usually a cycle, a coming and a returning.

These – the taking off, the adventures, and the returning – are the three main stages of the hero’s journey, and Campbell dedicates a chapter to each; each of these chapters is further divided into several sections outlining different phases of that respective stage.

Nicely illustrated, the hero’s cycle looks like this:

The Hero with a Thousand Faces Summary

Of course, not all heroes pass through all stages (in fact, a hero rarely does), but there is basically no myth of a hero which includes an episode that won’t fit into Campbell’s beautiful scheme.

Here’s what it says, broken down, section by section:

#1. DEPARTURE

A hero’s journey starts with a call to adventure: the hero is summoned by someone to venture from his normal world into the world of the unknown for one of many different reasons.

Sometimes, this call is just too strange or dangerous or ethically problematic, so the hero refuses the call. However, after some hesitation and in the presence of just enough evidence (say, Hamlet seeing the Ghost of his Father), the hero eventually agrees.

Once he/she embarks on the adventure, his supernatural aid – the mentor – appears or becomes known to him.

With the help of his aid’s advices or magical talismans, the hero is able to cross the first threshold and finally enter the unknown, the field where the laws of the normal world don’t apply anymore (aka: “that creature was actually a vampire!”)

A minor setback or danger may appear at this stage, such as Jonah – or Geppetto – ending up in the belly of the whale.

OK – not that minor in real-life terms.

#2. INITIATION

But that’s when the real adventure commences!

The Hero is now in a world of “monsters,” treading the road of trials. After several heroic endeavors, he encounters the goddess or the temptress – either way, the woman who will make or break him (remember Gilgamesh?)

Now, comes the center point of the journey: the hero meets the person/figure which holds the ultimate power over his identity or life. Campbell calls this stage the atonement with the father which means that if you had known the contents of “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” and taken it literally before watching “Star Wars,” you would have guessed one of the most famous twists in cinematic history!

Apotheosis is an Ancient Greek word meaning deification, which makes this stage self-explanatory.

The ultimate boon is the goal of the quest: the thing due to which the hero’s journey started in the first place. It can be the Holy Grail or the elixir of life – or just some type of knowledge. But once the hero obtains it, the journey is complete.

Time for coming back.

#3. RETURN

Sometimes, however, the hero may refuse to return: the grass is greener on the other side for me, he thinks, so who cares about the people awaiting the boon.

And sometimes, returning from a journey may be just as difficult as going on one: so, at this stage, the hero must perform the magic flight.

If it doesn’t go well – say, he is wounded or weakened – he may need to be rescued from without by a supernatural aid, a beloved person, or a completely unassuming figure.

Next follows the crossing of the return threshold after which the hero usually shares his boon with his original community.

Now, he is the master of two worlds, both his brutal physical force and his inner spiritual understanding of what it means to live in a human society.

In some cases, he makes one more step upward, achieving the freedom to live by the total annihilation of his former fear of death.

Key Lessons from “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”

1.      All Heroes are the Same
2.      The Basic Structure of the Monomyth
3.      Why All of This Matters

All Heroes are the Same

The main thesis of “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” is there in the book’s title: Osiris and Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad, Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter are all just different manifestation of the same character, the Archetypal Hero.

The Basic Structure of the Monomyth

The universal pattern of the hero’s journey – the monomyth – can be summarized, in Campbell’s words, 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.

Why All of This Matters

Because, to quote Campbell, even though “there are of course differences between the numerous mythologies and religions of mankind,” once the similarities are understood, “the differences will be found to be much less great than is popularly (and politically) supposed.”

Campbell’s hope?

Unification in the sense of mutual human understanding.

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“The Hero with a Thousand Faces Quotes”

Regrets are illuminations come too late. Click To Tweet

Not all who hesitate are lost. The psyche has many secrets in reserve. And these are not disclosed unless required. Click To Tweet

Instead of clearing his own heart the zealot tries to clear the world. Click To Tweet

Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed. Click To Tweet

Perhaps some of us have to go through dark and devious ways before we can find the river of peace or the high road to the soul's destination. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

Soon after the release of the first “Star Wars” film in 1977, George Lucas stated that his script was influenced in large part by “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.”

Since then, numerous different authors have used the same recipe to recreate the story of the hero, in more than one way, in more than one medium.

“Indiana Jones,” and “The Matrix,” “The Beauty and the Beast” and “Lion King,” “Community” and “Lost” – they all owe their structure to Campbell’s monomyth.

Just a few reasons to consider “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” one of the best nonfiction books of all time!

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The Power of Myth Summary

The Power of Myth PDFFrom Ancient Myths to Han Solo

“The Power of Myth” takes you back to the beginning of myths and explains their meaning.

About Joseph Campbell

Joseph CampbellJoseph Campbell (1904-1987) was an American author, mythologist, and lecturer, best known for his studies of comparative religion and mythology.

“The Power of Myth PDF Summary”

We have all grown up listening to bedtime stories.

Most of the stories parents tell children are rooted in myths and as such play a significant role in the collective identity.

Myths appeared in ancient times when people needed to make sense of the events that were happening in their surroundings.

However, even though today we have science and technology, we still need myths.

Why is that so?

Well, myths help us understand significant points of our lifetimes such as birth or death.

They make the transition from one stage to another more smooth and less scary.

Also, myths still form the identity of a group and explain the differences that exist among groups as well.

The stories in myths are specific for the places they originate from.

And, as circumstances on those places change, so do myths.

However, although myths change as time goes by, their core message stays the same.

Different cultures share common ideas in the form of archetypes. Archetypes are ideas that transcend culture.

All of us, no matter where we come from, understand these archetypes and what their meaning is.

This is so because we all share the same perennial hopes and fears.

That is why myths will never disappear.

Sometimes, myths are abstract. However, they have their concrete counterpart: ritual.

Rituals are sets of steps that people need to follow to achieve a specific goal.

In contemporary times, myths and rituals do not exist in such a distinct form as before, but we still use them to make sense of our roles in the society.

As we already mentioned, myths also help understand stages of life. Especially death.

They depict death as a fundamental part of life, as the other side of the coin. As a result, they decrease the fear of death that people have.

People also have a problem with depicting abstract concepts, such as god, time and space, et cetera.

When people cannot assign physical or concrete meaning to transcendent concepts, myths also help.

Key Lessons from “The Power of Myth”

1.      Blind to the Similarities
2.      How Myths Make Death Bearable
3.      Why Have Myths Been Pushed to the Margins?

Blind to the Similarities

Many concepts in mythology transcend cultures. However, people still want to seek differences instead of looking for the similarities among myths.

People just want to prove that their notions are true, and on the way to proving that, they remain blind to all the common ideas they share.

How Myths Make Death Bearable

Myths help us make death bearable.

In ancient times, fear of death was nonexistent, since death was considered a part of life, and not as an end of it.

Why Have Myths Been Pushed to the Margins?

First, schools do not teach them anymore and second; societies shift the perspective from the group to the individual.

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“The Power of Myth Quotes”

Sit in a room and read--and read and read. And read the right books by the right people. Your mind is brought onto that level, and you have a nice, mild, slow-burning rapture all the time. Click To Tweet 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. Click To Tweet I don't have to have faith, I have experience. Click To Tweet Computers are like Old Testament gods; lots of rules and no mercy. Click To Tweet The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply. Click To Tweet

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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.

Enjoy!

#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.

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