I’ve read hundreds of books in my life. But only a few dozen made a lasting impact on the way I live.
And from the few dozen great books I’ve read, there are 7 that inspired me to be better. I can honestly say that I’ve changed my life and behavior for the better after reading these books.
Here they are. I truly hope they will have the same effect on you.
If you enjoyed Sapiens by Yuval Harari, you’ll love this one. The Dawn of Everything is written by anthropologist David Graeber and archaeologist David Wengrow.
In this book, they use common sense and science to debunk many commonly held beliefs about our history. For example, everyone assumes we were always hunter-gatherers until 10,000 years ago when we suddenly started the farming revolution. And that’s when inequality started as well. At least, that’s the idea.
But Graeber and Wengrow explain that history is more complex. It’s not like the oversimplified narratives we see in popular books and media. My key takeaway is that humans are highly complex and unique. It’s impossible to make generalized claims about humans.
What I like most about The Dawn of Everything is how the authors look at the world. They are critical of their peers, but also of themselves. This level of self-awareness is sadly rare.
This book is by the late psychiatrist Gordon Livingston. It’s packed with simple and profound lessons for a good life.
The title of the book is a fate you want to avoid. One of the biggest tragedies in life is when we learn things too late. The problem is that so many of us are stubborn.
We prefer to figure things out on our own instead of listening to the advice of people with experience. Livingston didn’t only have his own experience, but also the collective experience of the patients he treated.
The book consists of 30 short chapters that you can read in a few sittings. Every chapter contains life-changing advice. It’s a book you want to re-read as soon as you’ve finished it.
One of my favorite lessons is this: “The process of building has always been slower and more complicated than that of destruction.” That’s true for every important thing in life: Your health, relationships, investments, and career.
I first learned about Jiddu Krishnamurti from Sam Harris’ reading list many years ago. But somehow I never picked up his books until about a year ago.
Krishnamurti is one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century. He was born in 1895 in India, and his early years remain much of a mystery. But he started giving speeches and sharing ideas about philosophy when he was 16.
He spent the rest of his life traveling and talking about his ideas until he died at the age of 90. What sets Krishnamurti apart from other philosophers and thinkers is that he didn’t want you to admire him or see him as a guru.
He had no respect for authoritative figures and believed it was idiotic to look up to others. In his view everyone was equal. I love that mindset because you can never be fully free if you keep looking at others for answers. One must be an independent thinker to be free.
If you decide to pick up Freedom from The Known or any other of his books, beware of his direct and often harsh advice. The books are based on his talks, so they read more like a speech instead of a self-help book.
John Bogle is one of the most important people in modern finance. He founded Vanguard and created the first popular index fund: a basket of funds that invests in the 500 top-performing companies in the US. Before index funds existed, people couldn’t make passive investments and gain moderate returns with little risk, as they do now.
Bogle created a company that manages trillions of dollars worth of wealth. In fact, I believe Bogle influenced the stock market like no other individual in history. With index funds, he brought simple investing to the general public. He didn’t invent them, but he made them big.
Many professional managers didn’t like Bogle for that. But with index investing, Bogle helped ordinary people put more money into the stock market, which increased market growth and made common investors like you and me wealthier.
He was also an incredibly generous and well-rounded individual. His philosophy for life was down-to-earth and honorable.
While he generated so much wealth in the financial industry, he donated around half of his earnings to various charities. So even after founding a trillion-dollar company, he never became a billionaire, something he never aspired to become anyway.
This is a man who truly practiced what he preached. I respect that.
Enchiridion (Greek for “the manual”) by the Stoic philosopher Epictetus is the only book that has been nearly on every list I created since 2015. This is my handbook for life. The book I return to the most.
There are two translations I like the most. One is called A Manual For Living (link above). And the other is called The Good Life Handbook.
If I could only pick one book to bring with me on a trip, this would be it. In fact, I always travel with this book everywhere I go. When you’re unfocused or lost, you can always return to “the manual.”
The simplicity of Epictetus’ lessons makes this book easy to read. It has important and life-changing lessons on every single page. This handbook contains the most wisdom per page—period. Nothing will ever top this.
The concept of impermanence has really changed my view on life. There are many eastern philosophers who talk about that idea. But I like how Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Vietnamese monk, talks about it.
This is the quote I love the most: “Impermanence means that nothing remains the same thing in two consecutive moments.”
One simple sentence. But you can ponder it for a lifetime and still don’t fully grasp the concept. I wrote about impermanence here if you’re interested in learning more.
Another Thich Nhat Hanh saying that I love is this one: “There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.” Now think about that.
Most people know Viktor E. Frankl from the classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which is also one of my all-time favorites.
The reason I’m mentioning Yes to Life here is that I love the concept behind the book. The title really says it all.
Yes to Life is based on a series of lectures Frankl gave in Vienna, eleven months after he was liberated from the Nazi concentration camps. If you read this book with that fact in the back of your mind, it makes the reading experience 10 times more powerful.
One of my key takeaways from Frankl is this: The question can no longer be “What can I expect from life?” but can now only be “What does life expect of me?” What task in life is waiting for me?” A great way to live.
Books can change your life
It was hard to condense this list to 7 books. There are other books that changed my life, which I have written about extensively in the past.
The books I shared here are the ones I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. The reason I like these books is that I can summarize the ideas in one sentence.
For example, when I feel life is hard or unfair, I say, “Remember Frankl. Choose to say yes to life.” That’s the prime example of a book that makes you a better human.
Books really have the power to change your life. Crazy if you think about it—a collection of words by someone you don’t know personally can change everything for you. That’s probably why people say books are magical. It really is the closest thing to magic.