Friday, May 24, 2024

33 Powerful Books That Might Change Your Life


I’ve read over 1,000 nonfiction books in my life, and these 33 are the most powerful of them all. I can honestly say they changed my life, who’s to say they won’t change yours too?

Don’t just take my word for it though. Read on for my summary of all 33 books and see for yourself how your next read might just change your life.

1. Atomic Habits by James Clear

Atomic Habits by James ClearThis might be the most practical book ever written on simple behavioral change.

Atomic Habits has three big takeaways. The first is that small lifestyle changes compound over a long period of time. So you don’t want to try to be a completely different person tomorrow, you want to be 1% better 100 days in a row.

The second big takeaway can be summarized with the line, “We don’t rise to the level of our goals, but we fall to the level of our systems.” The idea here is that it’s not about ambition or effort, it’s about creating an environment that makes behavioral change inevitable.

And finally, the third takeaway is that habits don’t stick unless we alter our identities. That means it’s not sufficient to simply change our behavior, but we also have to change how we see ourselves and how we relate to others.

2. The Expectation Effect by David Robson

The Expectation Effect by David RobsonScience shows our expectations can drastically affect how we perceive reality.

People who believe they’re capable of doing something are far more likely to do it. People who believe they will heal from an injury or illness do so quicker and more consistently. People who expect medication or therapy to work have a greater chance of that medication or therapy working.

Basically, the mind is a really fucking powerful thing and it affects our bodies and relationships in ways that we don’t fully understand. So you might as well adopt mindsets and beliefs that are most likely to help you.

That’s leveraging the expectation effect.

3. The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.

The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigalWhat if I told you that stress isn’t always a bad thing, that it could even be a good thing?

Well, that’s the argument that Kelly McGonigal makes in this important book.

Stress has a bad reputation. We’re told it will kill us, traumatize us, make us miserable and sad and cry into our ice cream cone.

That may be true for some, but whether or not stress is actually bad for us depends on what exactly is stressing us. Is it a meaningful and important challenge that is stressful? Is the stress creating value for you in the world?

After all, stress exists for a reason. It mobilizes us, both physically and mentally. It gets us paying attention, and when directed in a meaningful pursuit, it can help us feel a sense of accomplishment.

So you shouldn’t necessarily avoid stress, you should pick the stress that you’re happy to have.

4. So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal NewportConventional wisdom tells us to follow our passion. Pick a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life, right?

Wrong, says Cal Newport. The research says that we got it backwards. We don’t do great work at things we love, we tend to love things that we become very good at.

So instead of trying to follow your passion all the time, which let’s be honest, is a wishy-washy concept that many people struggle to even define, Newport argues that we should instead be focusing on developing our skills.

Because you can become passionate about anything, you just need to be good at it first.

5. The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen

The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton ChristensenDid you know this was Steve Jobs’ favorite book?

The Innovator’s Dilemma is a phenomenon that occurs in business when the biggest and most successful companies miss the most obvious opportunities because they’re so invested in older technologies, they can’t justify moving on.

The perfect example of this is Kodak. Did you know that Kodak actually experimented with digital cameras back in 1975? But they never pursued the technology because they had built up billions of dollars around analog film.

Thirty years later, Kodak went out of business. Why? Digital cameras.

The Innovator’s Dilemma shows up not only in business, but also in life.

Generally, when we miss huge opportunities, it’s not because we weren’t looking for them or weren’t aware of them, it’s because we are benefiting so much from our old tendencies that we let the life-changing opportunity pass us by.

6. Influence by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.

Influence by Robert B. CialdiniIt turns out that the human mind has a number of triggers that cause us to be easily influenced by others and their ideas.

Robert Cialdini boils these triggers down into eight categories, and in his seminal book, Influence, explains how they’re often used in sales and marketing, but also by people around us to get what they want from us.

Drawing from examples from religious cults, professors and colleges, teachers, marketing experts and advertisements, this book will change how you see your own decision-making.

It’s a must-read for anyone interested in psychology, but especially, if you’re in sales and marketing.

7. The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim FerrissThis is the book that changed a whole generation of entrepreneurs.

Ferriss’ big insight is in the nature of how one defines wealth. Instead of becoming wealthy by accumulating expensive possessions, Ferriss defines wealth in terms of freedom and time and the ability to have enriching experiences.

With this new definition, the classic arrangement of working for forty years and then retiring doesn’t really make a lot of sense.

By leveraging technology, automation, and working anywhere in the world, Ferriss describes how you can become part of the new rich or live a wealthy life at a young age on a modest amount of money.

Get rich, bitch.

8. Dopamine Nation by Anna Lembke, M.D.

Dopamine Nation by Anna LembkeDopamine is a neurotransmitter that allows us to feel a sense of reward or accomplishment. It’s crucial in motivation and feelings of life satisfaction, but like anything, too much dopamine could be a bad thing.

In her book Dopamine Nation, Anna Lembke makes the argument that modern society is overstimulating us and flooding our brains with more dopamine than we were meant to handle.

The result is a glut of addictive, compulsive overindulgent behaviors across the developed world.

Basically, we’re all getting fat and sassy.

So how do we combat this? Through abstention, intentional challenge, and being more mindful of our environments.

If you feel like your dopamine levels are through the fucking roof, then this book is probably useful.

9. The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker

The Denial of Death by Ernest BeckerErnest Becker was an obscure academic who wrote this book on his deathbed as he was dying of cancer.

Bringing together influences from existential philosophy, Freudian psychology, and Zen Buddhism, Becker argued that death is life’s ultimate motivator, that what gives us a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives is an attempt to create something that will outlive us when we die.

Becker called these our immortality projects and argued that they were the root of not only everything good in our lives, but also everything evil.

10. The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

The Paradox of Choice by Barry SchwartzSimple piece of science, massive implications.

The Paradox of Choice tells us that when offered more options, we tend to be less satisfied with whatever we choose.

So if I offer you to choose between two candy bars, you’ll pick your favorite and be satisfied. But if I ask you to choose between ten candy bars, you’ll have more options, but research finds you’ll be less satisfied with your choice.

In a world that is constantly unlocking more options and abundance for us all, this has wide implications from dating to career choices, to hobbies, to even choosing where to live.

Beware of the paradox of choice.

11. Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki

Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert KiyosakiThis is a simple book that sums up the most fundamental difference in mindset between people who get rich and people who stay poor.

Poor people see money as something to be spent. They try to find and get as much as possible and then use it up until it’s gone. Rich people, on the other hand, see money as something to invest. Once it’s spent, they look for a good return.

This simple difference in mindset can explain all sorts of behavior—from what kind of car people drive to what kind of clothes they wear, how much they save for retirement, how many credit cards they use.

A small book that can be read in an afternoon, but a simple idea that should be internalized by everyone.

Fun fact: the author is broke.

12. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. FranklViktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who was captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz.

Spending the next three years in concentration camps, he somehow managed to survive. And while there, he made an observation, both simple and profound, that the prisoners who had a reason to survive the concentration camps, tended to be the ones who did.

He said that he got to the point where he could predict which prisoner would die next based on which ones had stopped having hope for the future.

Frankl summed up his conclusion with Nietzsche’s famous maxim, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

Viktor’s incredible realization is that while suffering may often be inevitable, as long as we have some higher purpose to grant our suffering meaning, we can not only survive it but grow from it.

13. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale CarnegieA self-help classic that teaches the completely counterintuitive truth that when you focus on other people, shocking, they will like you more.

Unfortunately, our default approach to most relationships is to speak instead of listen, to try to feel seen instead of trying to see the other person.

Carnegie’s book is a simple yet profound explanation that the way to connect with others is to simply open yourself up to being connected with them, and then shut the fuck up and listen better.

To be honest, I feel like this should be required reading for every high schooler in the world, but fuck, nobody ever asked me.

14. Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Start With Why by Simon SinekStart With Why makes a simple but important point: when choosing what to pursue, start by asking why. That is, ask yourself, what are you optimizing for and what is the primary motivation or purpose?

When we align our actions with some higher purpose, we become more motivated and more effective and more resilient to setbacks.

This is particularly important within organizations. Sinek argues that it’s ultimately our “why” that keeps everyone aligned and on the same page when shit goes south.

15. The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan HaidtAre people mentally weaker than they used to be? Have we become more emotionally fragile?

Well, the authors of this incredible book argue yes, and they back it up with a shitload of data.

Unfortunately, it seems in the last fifteen years the public has become more emotionally fragile, and young people in particular are less tolerant of any sort of discomfort or inconvenience that comes their way.

The authors have a number of data-driven explanations for this. The first one is the rise of helicopter parenting—the assumption that parents need to watch their kids and protect them at all costs.

The second one is the philosophy of safety-ism—the belief that anything that can cause pain or suffering is ultimately harmful in the long run and can even be traumatic.

The third explanation is lack of play. The past few generations of kids have been so overloaded with schoolwork and extracurricular activities trying to get into a good college that they haven’t had time to be kids, and it turns out that most mental and emotional development of children happens while they’re playing.

And finally, there’s everybody’s favorite culprit, social media. I shouldn’t have to explain that one.

16. The Revolt of the Public by Martin Gurri

The Revolt of the Public by Martin GurriMartin Gurri was an analyst at the CIA when he noticed something was wrong in 2011. It started with widescale pro-democracy demonstrations in the Middle East, but soon spread to populist uprisings across the world with demonstrations in Europe and the Americas.

The advent of social media and mobile phones had made performative political activism possible in a way that had never existed previously.

Before, organizing a protest required a ton of resources, a giant network, marketing, and publicity. But today, with the help of a smartphone and a viral post, ad hoc political protests could be started at the drop of a hat.

These new performative protests were markedly different from previous ones. They were unorganized, and while they all advocated for the downfall of the current establishment, they didn’t really propose anything in its place.

Gurri calls this new orientation the periphery versus the center. It’s no longer about right versus left. It’s about establishment versus anti-establishment.

And unfortunately, we’re all caught in the middle.

17. Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D.

Getting the Love You Want by Harville HendrixOur parents—no matter how good and well-intentioned—always fuck something up.

They make mistakes, they have their own issues and quirks—these then imprint themselves on our brains as our love map. Basically, the way we unconsciously understand affection and intimacy.

As adults, we unconsciously seek out partners that fit into our love maps, thus recreating the failures and mistakes made by our parents. These failures and mistakes then re-trigger old psychological wounds and make our relationships incredibly emotionally turbulent.

The way out of this mess is to find a partner who is also aware of this process, and you can work together to change both of your behaviors, and essentially correct for the fuckups made by each other’s parents.

In this sense, the power of relationships is that they can literally heal your emotional wounds. This, in a nutshell, is the purpose of romantic love.

18. The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel

The Psychology of Money by Morgan HouselThe most important truths about money are also the most counterintuitive. This is why The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel is such an important book.

Nobody spends their money rationally. We’re terrible at assessing risk. Financial security only exists if you have more, and being rich and being wealthy are complete contradictions of each other.

Do any of these things make sense? No? Well, read the book and they fucking will.

These are just a few of the mind-bending ideas that The Psychology of Money will unpretzel for your brain. The book is a fascinating romp through all the fucked up ways our minds mishandle money, both literally and figuratively.

It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to get rich and or die trying.

19. Outlive by Peter Attia, M.D.

Outlive by Peter AttiaIf you’re reading this, it’s very likely you’re gonna die of one of four things: heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, or diabetes.

Also, it just happens that all four of these chronic illnesses develop very slowly over a long period of time.

Peter Attia makes the argument that these four horsemen are so deadly because our current medical system is not designed to manage or prevent chronic diseases, but rather to treat acute diseases after they’ve already happened.

Outlive is basically a guide to that prevention, and this book will probably be the gift that I give every single person on their 40th birthday for a long, long time.

20. Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert

Stumbling on Happiness by Dan GilbertThis is my personal favorite book about happiness, and trust me, I’ve read pretty much every book on happiness.

Dan Gilbert is a psychologist from Harvard, and in his book he argues that happiness doesn’t function the way we assume it does.

Happiness isn’t something you gain or lose based on external events in your life. Rather, your mind will alter how it perceives external events to maintain a consistent modest level of happiness.

Put simply, everyone is slightly delusional about the past and the future, and this delusion exists to maintain some degree of satisfaction in our lives.

Gilbert calls this the “psychological immune system,” and argues that people who are miserable, it’s because their psychological immune systems are failing due to some sort of dysfunctional belief or extreme negative event.

21. Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke

Thinking in Bets by Annie DukeProfessional poker player Annie Duke utilizes her background in poker as a way to teach effective decision-making. And that is, don’t think of decisions in terms of all or nothing, yes or no, success or failure—think of decisions in terms of probabilities.

Basically, envision your decisions in life as a bunch of bets, little mini experiments designed to see how much you get back for what you invest.

I’ve personally found thinking in terms of probability and making decisions based on expected returns to be one of the most practical and useful skills I’ve ever developed in my life, and not just at the poker table.

22. Mindset by Carol Dweck, Ph.D.

Mindset by Carol DweckDweck is a psychologist at Stanford, and she found that people who believe they can change and get better are the ones who tend to change and get better.

And people who believe that they can never change, and that they’re just screwed, well, surprise, they don’t change, and they spend their lives feeling screwed.

Dweck called these two dispositions a growth mindset and a fixed mindset.

And guess what, motherfucker? You want to have a growth mindset.

23. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel KahnemanDaniel Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for his life’s work, and this book summarizes all of it.

Basically, our mind has two systems: system one and system two.

System one is extremely fast, intuitive, and unconscious. System two is slow, methodical, and highly aware.

System one is great to generate quick responses in complex situations. It’s what we often think of as our gut instinct. System one tends to do well in social or emotional situations or predicting outcomes of highly complex circumstances.

System two is great when you need thoroughness and accuracy. You wouldn’t want to build a rocket or a nuclear plant based on your gut instinct. You build it based on slow, methodical system-two thinking.

Kahneman argues that many of our personal and social problems arise when we misuse our two systems and mistakenly use one instead of the other. Sometimes we try to overanalyze our emotional problems or feel our way through difficult analytical problems.

Being aware of our systems and what they are good for can help us approach life in a more harmonious way.

24. On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche

On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich NietzscheAccording to Nietzsche, there are two conflicting moral impulses within us all.

The first is meritocratic—the spoils should go to the victor. If you’re smarter, stronger, faster, more clever, more powerful, you deserve the rewards of your effort and ingenuity. Nietzsche called this master morality.

The second belief system is that we should care for the weak, alleviate people’s suffering, help the unfortunate, and give special attention and care to those who need it most. Nietzsche called this slave morality.

Master and slave morality have been in an eternal struggle—both between societies but also within societies—for most of human history. Wars have been fought over it, religions have been founded and destroyed because of it, and the modern-day political left and right are the legacies of the impulses towards master and slave morality within us all.

Each has its benefits to society and each is necessary, but when unchecked by the other, both have the seeds of tyranny and downfall.

25. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

Zen Mind Beginner's Mind by Shunryu SuzukiThis book is, in my opinion, the best introduction to Buddhist practice and serious meditation that you can come across as a Westerner.

Through a series of bite-sized chapters based on his old lectures, Suzuki takes you step by step through each of the profound realizations that Buddhist thought can lead you to.

For instance, that there’s a separation between the thinking mind and the observing mind. Sure, you have thoughts, but who is it in your mind that is aware that you have thoughts? Or non-dual awareness, the idea that the separation between anything is completely subjective and self-invented. Or the acceptance of the present moment as the only means to alleviate suffering.

If you are one of the many Westerners who is curious about Buddhism, this is an excellent starting point to begin your practice.

26. The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker

Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven PinkerIn The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker has painstakingly mapped through both data and anecdotal accounts the rapid decline in violence across the world these past few centuries.

The level of barbarism that we find appalling today was not only commonplace a few hundred years ago, but in many ways, it was even celebrated.

After clubbing us over the head with data for five hundred pages, Pinker then spends the rest of the book theorizing why the world is becoming more peaceful and nonviolent.

His ideas range from literacy increasing people’s capacity for empathy to technology making people more comfortable and secure, to a more interconnected society requiring more people to rely on one another.

It’s a fascinating read from start to finish. It absolutely changed my view of the world.

27. Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard

Fear and Trembling by Soren KierkegaardThe Danish philosopher uses a biblical story of Abraham and Isaac to illustrate a deep psychological truth.

And that is that, ultimately, to give our lives any sense of meaning and psychological stability, we must choose to believe certain things matter more than ourselves. And this choice requires what he calls a leap of faith.

Whether it’s a religion, a family, a relationship, or a career mission, we all must choose, at some point, to give our lives over to something. And the terrifying thing is that we must do this without knowing if it’s the right thing or not. This is where faith comes in.

It’s not that this is a secular book with a religious example, it’s more that this book shows you that nothing is really secular, and all commitments are ultimately religious to some degree or another.

28. Deep Work by Cal Newport

Deep Work by Cal NewportSome work can survive distraction and task-switching, but some work, particularly creative work or really hard problem-solving, is greatly harmed by both.

The problem, Newport argues, is that in the modern world of the internet and social media, we are increasingly being swamped in distractions and task-switching.

Newport says that people who are able to protect their attention and engage what he calls “deep work” will have a huge leg up in the 21st century. He then gives you strategies to integrate deep work into your life—like establishing routines, time-blocking, limiting exposure to social media, and more.

29. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

The Power of Now by Eckhart TolleThe self-help classic from twenty years ago, The Power of Now argues that most of our suffering occurs because we are fixated on the past or worrying about imaginary futures.

Tolle teaches us to become present in a classic meditative sense, and it turns out once we become good at remaining present, most of our worries, anxieties, and concerns melt away, because we recognize them for what they always were—fucking imaginary.

30. The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker

The Blank Slate by Steven PinkerThere’s a persistent idea throughout history that people are born perfect and innocent, and that any dysfunction they exhibit later in life is caused by some sort of trauma or injustice.

This theory of the blank slate is seductive and has converted many of history’s greatest thinkers, from John Locke to Karl Marx. But unfortunately, today, we know conclusively that it is simply not true.

A great amount of people’s personalities, dispositions, beliefs, and dysfunctions are genetically-driven. Pinker breaks down the research showing this is true, but he also shows the dramatic, political implications of this.

An important book for understanding human nature and coming to terms with our prejudices.

31. Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas TalebThe world is a chaotic mess and we are surrounded by randomness and unpredictability, yet we don’t like admitting that to ourselves.

So we find patterns in randomness and tell ourselves stories that justify our actions and behaviors. And inevitably, these stories make us look like a brilliant hero.

The book is full of amusing anecdotes and stories, both fictional and real, of people who were fooled by randomness and managed to convince themselves they knew what they were doing in a completely chaotic and fucked up world.

32. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John M. Gottman, Ph.D.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John GottmanJohn Gottman is the preeminent relationship researcher in the world on what makes relationships work, and what makes them fail catastrophically.

And in this book, he uncovers a number of counterintuitive findings.

For example, did you know the happiest couples don’t resolve all their problems, or that compromise isn’t always the answer, or that fighting is sometimes kind of healthy, or that the most predictive part of your relationship isn’t what you communicate, but rather how it’s communicated?

Yeah, I didn’t know that shit either until I read this book.

33. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark MansonClearly written by a self-absorbed jackass, this juvenile piece of pseudo-philosophy argues that, in the age of information abundance, we all face an existential crisis of choosing what matters.

The author goes on to argue that sacrifice is a necessary component of happiness, and that failure and embarrassment are actually healthy experiences that we should all embrace.

It’s sold like 15 million copies, so clearly people give way too many fucks. But the author is extremely handsome, so I have to recommend you buy it.

Looking for More Books to Read?

I’ve put together a list of over 200 “best books” organized by genre, as well as my all-time recommended reading list that includes the book(s) I’m reading each month. Check them out.



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