20 Books That Will Change The Way You Look At The World (and yourself)

Here are 20 books that made me see the world in a new world. These are the books that continually spark new ideas and led to moments of reinvention.

If you have a favorite book that you don’t see on the list, please tell me about it!

Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse

Siddhartha is the story of the Buddha and it truly is everyone — regardless of religion or personal beliefs. This book is about mastering oneself, kindness, and how to see what is really important in life.

Luckily, this book was gifted to me before I really needed it. Had I not already learned a few lessons from Siddhartha, certain stretches of my twenties probably would have been much darker. This book is beautiful and timeless.

“I can think. I can wait. I can fast”

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield

When it comes to beating procrastination and overcoming excuses, this book is the bible. Steven Pressfield outlines ways to beat what he calls, “The Resistance,” in short, painfully relatable chapters.

For anyone that perpetually puts the most important work off, or struggles to start creative endeavors, this is the best books around. I keep this book facing out on my bookshelf as a personal reminder to keep fighting the good fight.

“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way, by Richard Branson

I devoured this 600-page memoir in just a few days time — it’s that good. This is Sir Richard Branson’s first book and the story of how he went from a high-energy, dyslexic kid who dropped out of high school to a high-energy, dyslexic billionaire who changed the world multiple times over.

Between death-defying hot air balloon races across the Atlantic, starting Virgin Music, Virgin Air, and his work with Nelson Mandela, it doesn’t get more inspirational than Richard Branson.

There are tons of lessons in this book, but the main, and most important one is this: Have Fun.

In everything Brandon did, he always began from a place of childlike wonder and playfulness. He really just wanted to make the world a better place. This book is the ultimate reminder that you can build an empire and keep a big smile while doing so.

“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.”

Ego Is The Enemy, by Ryan Holiday

Elenor Roosevelt once said, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You won’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” That’s exactly what this book does — gives us the chance to learn from some of the world’s greatest downfalls. Each chapter holds a story and a valuable lesson taken from the lives of history’s most notable names.

Reading this book helped shine a light on where I have faltered in the past with my own ego, and of course, brought to mind a few people who need to give it a read. hint, hint

“Ego is the enemy of what you have and what you want.”

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When To Quit (And When To Stick), by Seth Godin

If you’re questioning whether you’re on the right path — career, relationship, creative project — read this book. It’s quick and tells us everything we need about recognizing when to quit and, most importantly, how to quit fast. Because, as Godin writes, “knowing when to quit and when to stick is what separates the winners from the losers.”

“Extraordinary benefits accrue to the tiny minority of people who are able to push just a tiny bit longer than most. Extraordinary benefits also accrue to the tiny majority with the guts to quit early and refocus their efforts on something new.”

Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig

This book is a heavy-weight. It got dense for me in certain sections, but the rewards have continued to pay off long after the last page. This novel tackles huge topics — the relativity of truth, the definition of quality, how the ancient forms of rhetoric shape our world view today — yet each idea is presented through beautiful prose and storytelling that makes it all digestible.

“The truth knocks on the door and you say, ‘Go away, I’m looking for the truth’, and so it goes away. Puzzling.”

Tools Of Titans, by Tim Ferriss

I only recently finished this one and all that I can say is that it’s a beast. It’s a tome packed with “tactics, routines, and habits of billionaires, icons, and world-class performers.” No one can distil wisdom or reverse engineer process better than Tim Ferriss, and this book is the culmination of knowledge from over 200 of his podcast guests.

This book is for anyone interested in overall mastery of life.

*Personal tip: Grab this book on Kindle. At over 600 pages it’s not the most travel ready title here. Plus: you will have TONS of highlights and notes.

Zero To One: Notes on Startups, or How to Change the Word, by Peter Thiel

I find myself returning to certain ideas I learned in this book constantly. Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and first investor in Facebook, shows us how to think like a contrarian. “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” he asks.

This book made me see the world differently in many ways. I also taught me the importance of questioning the majority and my own set of beliefs; an important skill to have in today’s information echo chamber.

The sections on how to view competition and the importance of 10x improvements make the book worth its weight in gold. But learning how to productively question yourself is priceless.

“The best projects are likely to be overlooked, not trumpeted by a crowd; the best problems to work on are often the ones nobody else even tries to solve.”

Ask The Dust, by John Fante

This is one of my favorite novels for many reasons. It’s almost embarrassing how relatable the protagonist is to us all and the writing is so good that I’ve thrown the book across the room in jealous fits of rage. But that’s not why it’s listed here.

This novel is a warning call to anyone that gets in their own way by spending too much time up in their head. The main character in Ask The Dust really could have everything he wanted if he if would just live in the real world and away from his fantasies for a day.

It’s difficult not to retreat into story mode when things don’t go our way, but fantasizing about the future, or what could have been, is a sure-fire way to miss out on everything good happing right in front of us.

“I looked at the faces around me and I knew mine was like theirs. Faces with the blood drained away, tight faces, worried, lost. Faces like flowers torn from their roots and stuffed into a pretty vase, the colours draining fast. I had to get away from that town.”

Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World, by Cal Newport

Most people don’t need to read a whole book to know that in today’s realm of digital distraction the ability to lock in and focus is a rare skill. This book, however, goes much deeper. Cal Newport shares the neuroscience behind a distracted mind and proves how one’s ability to accomplish “deep work” is often the difference between mediocrity and greatness.

Learning how to do, “deep work” is probably the most important life hack around.

Steal Like An Artist: Ten Things No One Told You About Being Creative, by Austin Kleon

This little book can be read in an afternoon but will stick around in your mind for years to come. “You don’t need to wait to know who you are to get started,” writes Kleon. His advice that originality is not step 1, had a huge impact on me. I’m not sure I would have ever made it past the pressure of the blank page had I not read this book.

Taking creative cues from our peers is a necessary part of creating. Steal Like An Artist shows through drawings, quotes, and short lessons what it means to really be someone that creates. If you’re feeling stuck, read this.

“What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.”

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey

The best way to accomplish big things while keeping life balance is by creating rituals. All the greats had some form of a ritual in order to produce work and keep (somewhat) sane. Whether or not realize you it, you have rituals in place now. Some help you and some are probably setting you back.

Daily Rituals is a collection of the world’s best writers, artists, and creators daily habits. It’s “how they create (and avoid creating) their creations.” I keep this book nearby for finding new ideas and as a reminder that I’m not alone in the struggle to make time to create.

“A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.”

The Fish That Ate The Whale: The Life And Times Of America’s Banana King, by Rich Cohen

This biography of Sam Zemurray, the man known as the “Banana King,” is a story of strategy and an indomitable will to succeed. Zemurray started as a penniless fruit bagger on the docks on New Orleans only to eventually control Central American governments and build one of the largest fruit empires in history.

This book taught me that no matter the obstacle, there’s always another way.

“When he was forbidden to build a bridge, he built a bridge but called it something else. For every move, there is a countermove. For every disaster, there is a recovery. He never lost faith in his own agency.”

Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin

Steve Martin wasn’t actually born standing up, but he did dedicate 30 years of his life to perfecting the art of telling jokes on stage. 10 years of learning, 10 years of floundering, and finally, 10 years of growing success.

This memoir is more than a laugh out loud read. It’s a story of perseverance and tenacity and a guide to creating laughter in our own lives.

“Through the years, I have learned there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.”

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, by Raymond Carver

Caver is a magician. I’ve read most of these stories multiple times still can’t figure out how he does so much with so few words. This is the best collection of short fiction I’ve ever read. If you like words, please read.

“and it ought to make us feel ashamed when we talk like we know what we’re talking about when we talk about love.”

Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It, by Kamal Ravikant

I read this short book twice back to back. I’d been hearing about it for awhile and the first time I went through much of it didn’t register. My second go-round the words sunk in and I’ve used the mantras included inside over and over.

Self-love is a hot topic and something that the mainstream is finally embracing as a requirement rather than a bonus. Kamal does a great job telling his story while adding value in this quick read.

“Here we are, thinking that one needs to be in love with another to shine, to feel free and shout from the rooftops, but the most important person, the most important relationship we’ll ever have is waiting, is craving to be loved truly and deeply.”

How To Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big, by Scott Adams

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, has turned most of his failures into springboards for success. In the book, he explains why “goals are for losers. And winners create systems.” He offers pragmatic reasoning for why affirmations work and dishes out intellectual kung-fu that challenges old world ways of thinking.

His blog, http://blog.dilbert.com/ is also a great place to start if you’re unfamiliar with his writing.

Tribe, by Sebastian Junger

This was my favorite nonfiction book of the year and one I recommended to just about everyone. It covers eye-opening ideas on society, PTSD, and our evolutionary hardwiring. I’m a big fan of contrarian thinkers and here Junger puts mainstream assumptions to bed with science and historical examples. Fascinating, well-written, and important.

“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It’s time for that to end.”

Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius

This is the ultimate self-help, inspirational, motivational, how-to-live-a-good-life book. For me, it’s the handbook on how to be a good person and how to live with virtue. It’s the journal of Marcus Aurelius at a time when he was the most powerful man on the planet.

Never meant to be seen by anyone else, these are his personal notes and reminders to himself on how to live. This book is a fantastic launching off point for anyone interested in learning about Stoic philosophy.

When it comes to productivity, goals, and chasing our dreams — this book is a constant anchor, teaching just how short life is and to remember what is truly important. I can’t recommend this book enough.