One of the questions I get asked most via email is if I have any good book recommendations.
I do indeed.
23 of them actually.
Note: If you’re reading this because you’re looking for book recommendations, other than the ones in this article, be sure to check out these two:
- The 1st edition:“23 Excellent Books You Should Read“
- My “Sacred Tomes” (the select few best books I’ve ever read).
- The key takeaway for 61+ books I read. (Skimmable)
Most (modern) books contain only 1-3 big ideas. These 23 excellent books contain more than that.
Let’s start with. . .
Business & Success Philosophy
Why should you read these type of books?
For the obvious reason: To get ahead in life.
It contains the most important thoughts, mental models, scientific theories and business strategies of one of the smartest men alive: Charlie Munger.
Munger is the business partner of Warren Buffet. And, just like Buffet, Munger is a self-made billionaire. I will re-read this book many times over my life (there’s simply too much wisdom in it to take in at once).
If you’re into behavioral economics, it should interest you to know that Charlie basically came up with it, and has the smartest system I have seen for applying that knowledge to different fields of life. Business in particular.
The book’s name — Poor Charlie’s Almanack — was chosen to honor Charlie’s role model, Benjamin Franklin, who wrote a book called Poor Richard’s Almanack.
[Note: Reading this book will give you another 20+ excellent book recommendations.]
This is the second best book I’ve read in 2014.
Some of its content or main ideas are the same as in Poor Charlie’s Almanack. But much of it is different or explained with new examples.
I suggest you read this book after PCA as it’s a bit tougher to read. This book has zero fluff in it. It is packed with useful information from start to finish. It contains a lot of thought-provoking thoughts and questions. I had to stop and take a break to digest what I had read many times.
[Note: As I said, these two books are the best I’ve read in 2014. Hence I spent a proportionate amount of time studying them. These two books took me over a month (combined) to read, because I transcribed very large portions of them into my commonplace
and my book summary book.]
There is a lot of wisdom and life experience condensed in this short book. It’s an easy and fun read. Even a kid could learn from it.
If you’re young I would recommend you read this book before PCA and Seeking Wisdom. Those books are incredibly good, but they assume that you have a certain knowledge-base. This book will give you much of it.
Adams recommends you to learn how cognitive biases work so that you can remain rational and use your brain to its full potential.
Peter Drucker was a business philosopher and “management guru” (he basically invented the term “management”). He wrote 30-something books over his 95-year old life. The Essential Drucker contains most of his big ideas. Everyone should read it.
How has the profitability of the main industries during 1960-2000 gone?
- Manufactured goods: –60 %
- Farm and food products: –70 %
- Information products (including education and healthcare): + 300 %
Did you know that?
Towards the end of his life Drucker was interested in the advent of information society. He believed we would soon stop living in cities and work from home — anywhere — via computers.
This brings us to the two next books. . .
It’s actually called The Netocrats. When I talked to its author, Alexander Bard, before writing The Bard Notes, he informed me of this.
The real value of this book is that it puts the paradigm shift of information society in a philosophical and historical context. It also contains a ton of useful and interesting trivia.
Check out The Bard Notes for a better summary.
One noteworthy example is that the wages for nearly ALL jobs have decreased by at least 5-10 % over the last 50 years, with the exception of highly educated people and entrepreneurs. This trend is likely to get continue.
There are three things that are scarce in today’s economy:
1) Quality land and natural resources.
2) Intellectual property or good ideas about what should be produced
3) Quality labor with unique skills.
Unique skills, as in: Cannot be replaced by a machine.
If you and your skills are a complement to the computer, your wage and labor market prospects are likely to be cheery.
You should read this book if you’re into futuristic philosophy and marketing.
Fastlaners are entrepreneurs who take intelligent risks and operate by the wealth formula of leverage multiplied by impact. Slowlaners are (most) people who (falsely) believe they can get really RICH by improving their intrinsic value through formal education and selling their time for money. DeMarco spends much of the book convincing you why the slowlane-strategy won’t make you rich.
- Don’t be concerned with cutting miniature expenses. Create a great product or service instead.
- Make your decisions with time as the #1 factor (instead of money, like most people do).
- Maximize time. Time buys money — not the other way around. Money can be made. Time is non-refundable.
And one of the best quotes from the book:
Your choices have significant trajectory into the future, and the younger you are, the more horsepower they exude. Unfortunately, horsepower fades with age. When you are under 25 you have maximum horsepower and your choices discharge an incredible amount of firepower.
DeMarco likes to use car analogies and uses them extensively throughout the book.
Written by Felix Dennis, the publishing empire billionaire, who owned Maxim Magazine among other enterprises. The book is autobiographical and chronicles Felix rags-to-riches story, while giving some good business advice along the way. The core advice can be summed up in two parts.
- Never talk negatively about yourself.
- You will never get rich if you care what anyone thinks of you. You need killer instinct. You have to get over fear of failure.
- You will never get rich as an employee. Not even as a manager
If you want to be rich, you are not looking for a “career,” except as a launch pad or as a chance to infiltrate and understand a particular industry. A job for the rich-in-training is merely something to keep you ticking over, to put food on your plate and wine in your glass.
- Ownership is power — hold on to stock
- Diversify your risk. Create new baskets of wealth (like Richard Branson)
- Sell early. Get out while the going is good (this was Felix’s biggest personal challenge)
Why I read biographies:
- To study the lives of the greats, learn vicariously from their successes as well as their mistakes and to implant them into my Dunbar’s number.
- For the motivation and inspiration they provide.
- Because they often contain useful historical trivia.
He grew up in Harlem, the son of two Jamaican immigrants, and made it to Secretary of State and army general. His journey is inspiring and oozes of hard work, discipline and intelligence. Powell has a number of life principles that he abides by. He tells stories for how he picked up each of these principles. The most important principle, in my opinion, is to always “check small things” to avoid unnecessary mistakes.
Growing up Powell was average at just about everything. Until he joined the military reserve as a college student and realized he was a natural leader:
It was only once I was in college, about six months into college when I found something that I liked, and that was ROTC, Reserve Officer Training Corps in the military. And I not only liked it, but I was pretty good at it. That’s what you really have to look for in life, something that you like, and something that you think you’re pretty good at. And if you can put those two things together, then you’re on the right track, and just drive on.
You’ll also learn many interesting trivia about the military and how things work in politics.
This book is not an easy read — compared to the Steve Jobs book, also written by Walter Isaacson — but it is an educating read. About half the book is devoted to understanding Einstein while the other half — which is hard unless you know some science — is spent explaining:
- The history of physics and the context in which it has evolved
- How various theories in physics work
Einstein was a freakishly hard-working man. You have surely heard the story of how he took the job at the patent office in Bern so that he would have time to work on his theory of relativity (he did his patent work in just a 2-3 hours, kept a bunch of papers on his desk to appear busy, and spent the remaining hours working on physics).
What you may not have heard is that to further maximize time spent working he wrote a contract to his wife Mileva Maric stating:
You will make sure:
– that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order;
– that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room;
– that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.
You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, You will forego:
– my sitting at home with you;
– my going out or travelling with you.
You will obey the following points in your relations with me:
– you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way;
– you will stop talking to me if I request it;
– you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it.
You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behaviour.
The first half (ca 300 pages) is amazing. You learn about Mike’s brutally traumatic upbringing and how Cus D’Amato took him from being a scared-shitless kid and trained him into a ruthless killing machine, by using hypnosis, affirmations and other interesting techniques.
There was one part of the book, just before 20-year old Mike is facing Trevor Berbick for the championship, that nearly brought me to tears (you have to read it to understand):
They were playing a Toto song for my entrance but all I could hear in my head was that Phil Collins song “In the Air Tonight”: “I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord / And I’ve been waiting for this moment for all of my life, oh Lord.”
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass was born a plantation slave in America during the early 19th century and ended up as a rich civil rights leader. What a testament of willpower. Douglass realized early in life that the key to freedom is education, so he learned to read and write in secret by transcribing and copying a grammar book that belonged to his master’s child.
Interesting facts about slaves:
- Slaves never knew how old they were and masters deliberately kept this information from them (because it would make them feel more like individuals and make them harder to control)
- Slaves would brag about — and get into fights about — who had the better master
- Slaves were fed like cattle, forced to eat from a big barrel, where the strongest got to eat and the weaker starved
To make the slaves believe that freedom was unattractive they were given Christmas off. The masters then arranged contests for the slaves, where they tricked them into spending what little money they had on whiskey. Then they goaded them into drinking a lot more whiskey than they could handle. The result?
Nearly all slaves wound up with huge hangovers and felt sick (they weren’t used to drinking). This made the slaves believe that this freedom-thing wasn’t so good after all, and that it was good they had masters telling them what to do.
This is the most renowned biography written about Hitler. Read it if you’re interested in the life of Hitler and the history of Germany before and during WW2. I have read several Hitler-biographies (5 I believe) and this is the best one.
Reading this book will give you a detailed analysis of Hitler’s life from start to finish. Alan Bullock uses a ton of different source to give a wide-lens perspective of how different events may have been perceived at the time.
Albert Speer was the Minister of Armaments and War Production for Germany during WW2. He was supposedly the most intelligent (and probably the most able) out of all the top Nazis. He started out as an exceptionally talented architect and was contracted to design the office of Joseph Goebbels. His work was appreciated and he was asked to design other things.
Eventually he was “discovered” by Hitler, who had an eye for talent, and decided to promote Speer to be his personal architect. Speer worked diligently and rose through the ranks fast. He proved to be incredibly efficient and eventually did the work of several ministers alone.
You will want to read this book if you’re into WW2 history. Speer talks as much of his own life as he does about Hitler’s. He mentions the hypnotic effect of Hitler’s charisma repeatedly.
Churchill rose to prominence by being born in a rich noble family, through exceptional networking and then add bravery and a lot of luck to that.
He was lucky in the sense that he could’ve died on several occasions, but didn’t. For example, he was captured and taken prisoner during the Boer War (in Africa) and managed to escape.
He used his remarkable survival story to become a national celebrity. Then he leveraged his newfound fame by traveling around Britain, and then North America too, giving a well-rehearsed speech of his war stories.
The three key lessons I took from this book was:
- To capitalize on victories as much as possible
- Not to underestimate the role of luck in success
- To work hard with what you’ve got
Churchill had a lisp and still became a good speaker. He also lacked spontaneity: all “off-the-cuff” arguments he made against political opponents in debates were carefully memorized.
I don’t read much fiction. But when I do I want to read quality fiction — the sort where the author is conveying some deeper meaning through storytelling.
What I don’t want to read is crap fiction, the sort that most people read. The sort you see displayed in the front of book stores and at airports. Detective stories and mind-numbing entertainment with lots of cliff-hangers (Dan Brown) and sex (50 Shades of Grey).
The best fiction authors are closet philosophers, scientists, and businesspeople. Mario Puzo is one such author.
When you read quality fiction you should do it with the intent of practicing your pattern recognition. Read with an end in mind.
Try to find mental models and underlying (psychological) themes in fiction books, to rehearse what you’ve learned from reading more serious books.
Mario Puzo famously wrote The Godfather. But this book was his personal favorite. It’s also my favorite of his books.
The main character is John Merlyn, who considers himself a wizard (hence the surname). Not a wizard in the sense of magic tricks, but in the sense of predicting the future by using his ability for long-term thinking. He uses his “wizardry” to avoid mistakes which other characters in the book — “fools” — make. This serves him well, as it slowly, but consistently, makes him successful.
This book is a masterpiece. There are many lessons to learn from it.
- Make friends. Lots of them. Especially with influential people.
- Be loyal. Never betray your allies or your family.
- Be patient. Wait and scheme for the right moment to strike, and then do it big.
- Be careful. Always go over the details of your schemes twice:
Don Corleone: I hope you don’t mind the way I keep going over this Barzini business.
Michael: No, not at all.
Don Corleone: It’s an old habit. I spent my life trying not to be careless. Women and children can be careless, but not men.
It’s based on the premises for great fiction that I told you about above. Watchmen is a comic used to narrate advanced ideas about human nature, psychology, history, science and philosophy. I have yet to meet anyone who read it and did not like it.
This book is worth reading alone for the character of Adrien Veidt.
Why read history?
Because it speeds up your personal development by giving you lots of mental associations, which makes you interested in more things.
It also makes you educated, difficult to trick and teaches you to think and put things in a larger context.
The best history book I have read on the 30s. It contains a really detailed analysis of events and gives you a broad picture perspective of what went on (a panorama). It also has character portraits on the major decision-makers of these times — such as: Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, Herbert Hoover, Charles de Gaulle, and more. . .
This was the favorite book of Ingmar Bergman, the iconic Swedish movie director. He would read a chapter each night before bed.
This book is written from a historical and academic perspective. The author questions the validity of the various historical sources which we base the information we have about Alexander, his leading men and his empire.
The most interesting part of this book was reading the chapters about Alexander’s father, Filip of Macedon. Filip was a genuine comprehensivist mastermind ruler — someone who’s great at many things and does big picture thinking.
If you’re already familiar with Alexander I recommend the book. If you’re not, then I don’t.
Will and Ariel Durant dedicated most of their lives to the study of history. They wrote lots of books, famously so their ten volume work The Story of Civilization.
Lessons of History summarizes the big questions and takeaways that the Durants learned in their thorough studies of 3,142 years of recorded history.
Here is the most important lesson in the book:
Means and instrumentalities change; motives and ends remain the same: to act or rest, to acquire or give, to fight or retreat, to seek association or privacy, to mate or reject, to offer or resent parental care. Nor does human nature alter as between classes: by and large the poor have the same impulses as the rich, with only less opportunity or skill to implement them.
So does history repeat itself, as the philosopher Santayana said?
History does not repeat itself in detail, but it tends to repeat itself in generalities as man’s instinctual responses to events remain the same.
Another good lesson:
Since practical ability differs from person to person, the majority of such abilities, in nearly all societies, is gathered in a minority of men. The concentration of wealth is a natural result of this concentration of ability, and regularly recurs in history.
These books don’t fit into the categories above, but they are still excellent.
- Simple = Strive for simplicity, less is more.
- Unexpected = The funniest jokes have an unexpected or open-ended finish. They “break” your pattern recognition.
- Credible = Back up your claims with proof, statistics, quotes, and so on.
- Concrete = Use comparisons to make people understand advanced concepts. Tap into their existing mental schemas.
- Emotional = Engage emotions. Preferably through stories.
- Story = Stories are easy to remember because the human brain has evolved with spoken word as the primary tool for transmitting information.
If you follow the ideas in this book your ideas, in text or speech, will have a higher chance of “sticking” in the minds of other people.
The first half of this book deals with Fuller’s view on the evolution of mankind and its political rule up to present day [1980s]. This is followed by a large chapter on his personal philosophy. The second part of the book is about the critical path (the fastest way to finish a project) of how to”make man a success in the universe” by working together to get off “spaceship Earth” (Fuller regarded our planet as a spaceship).
Buckminster Fuller was the first singularity spokesperson, only he didn’t call it that. He called it ephemeralization (doing more with less). Moore’s Law, The Law of Accelerating Returns and other such ideas stem from ephemeralization.
Those in supreme power politically and economically as of 1980 are as yet convinced that our planet Earth has nowhere nearly enough life support for all humanity. All books on economics have only one basic tenet—the fundamental scarcity of life support. The supreme political and economic powers as yet assume that it has to be either you or me. Not enough for both
Fuller spent his life proving this was false. His ideological nemesis was Thomas Malthus, who wrote An Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798 and produced the idea of scarcity-thinking, which still lives on today.
Fuller was one of the smartest men of the 20th century — and you’d be a fool if you didn’t learn from him. But he is a bit tricky to understand. He likes to write extremely long sentences and use words he himself made up. Reason being that he “preferred to not be understood rather than misunderstood”.
Want more book recommendations?