James Altucher
Jan 3, 2019 · 7 min read

THE 50 MUST-READ NON-FICTION BOOKS TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE IN 2019

Judy Blume told me, “I defined your childhood, correct?”

Yes Judy Blume, I said.

“So listen to me.” And I did. I did. And I still do.

Judy Blume has sold 150,000,000 copies of her books. Books I read as a kid. Books I grew up on. Books that helped me survive the agony of growing from a child into an adult.

Books make my life better. Every day. That’s why I love the authors. And I live to read. And I read to live.

It’s taken me a long time to learn to surround myself with the best possible people. The people that inspire me. The people that I love. The people that change me for the better.

So I’m grateful for them. These people are my family. Family are constantly changing. Even family can turn toxic. But these people who I love and help and who love and help me are my family.

The authors of books become my virtual family. I surround myself with my virtual family.

— -

I try not to think of the past. People who have done me wrong and don’t think of what I have done for them.

When I think of that, I get upset. I get filled with regret.

Another second wasted! Now a Minute! Now a Day!

The days add up.

What does this have to do with books?

Everything.

Books have saved my life. Since I was a little kid. Since I read Judy Blume, “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing”. Or Roger Zelazny’s “The Chronicles of Amber”.

Or Lao Tzu’s “The Tao Te Ching”. A tattered version my grandfather gave my dad who gave me and I started reading it when I was around ten. Every day.

I dive into a book and it breathes life into me. I’m a vampire who sucks the words out of the author until I have absorbed his or her life.

Now I have lived my life and the author’s life.

I’m so grateful to have many of my favorite authors on my podcast: Judy Blume, Nassim Taleb, Tim Ferriss, Jordan Peterson, Amy Morin, Cheryl Strayed, James Frey, Steven Pressfield, Brad Melzer, and on and on. Grateful grateful grateful.

Here are reasons I read:

  • To be inspired. Sometimes I forget that the key to life is to revolve your days and moments around MEANING. That meaning is the fuel of myth and story. Meaning creates The Hero. Meaning is the call to action that drives the hero from a normal person to one who surpasses all his prior abilities and achieves immortality.

(from “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz)

  • To learn facts. I never argue with people. Most people learn their opinions from their culture, from their parents or friends, from the location they grew up in. I like to learn facts from books. If I want to understand the effect of tariffs on the economy, I read the history of economies. If I want to understand how my favorite comedians succeeded against all odds, I read their biographies. If I want to learn about the effect sugar has on the body I read books about sugar. If I want to learn what radiation leaves a black hole when even gravity can’t leave a black hole I read books about physics.

(Michio Kaku, author of the beautiful book, “The Future of Humanity”)

  • To get better at something I love. If I love chess, I read books about chess. If I love investing, I read books about the best investors and the best investment strategies. If I love psychology I read books by the best psychologists.
  • To get smarter. After EVERY single book I read in the below list, I felt as if my intelligence was higher, if even for a day.
  • To be a better person. What is the role of habits in success? What are the common qualities of people who are happier than others? How have my favorite authors dealt with sorrow and loss and fear?

(author of “Sick in the Head” and producer of all my favorite movies and shows).

I want to close a book at the end and immediately want to re-read it. I want to close a book at the end and say, “I am a better person because I have read this book.”

Not “better” than anyone else. Better than the person I was yesterday.

And finally, I want to escape. Sometimes I just simply want to escape.

The journey to the center of the Universe is a long one. The journey to other dimensions is filled with perilous adventure.

The journey to a new me happens every day and without books I’d be very afraid.

Instead, I grow. It’s such a great thing to read a book and grow.

  1. Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl
  2. Antifragile” by Nassim Taleb (and “The Black Swan” and “Fooled by Randomness” and “Skin in the Game” by him)
  3. Tiny Beautiful Things” by Cheryl Strayed
  4. Master of Love” by Don Miguel Ruiz (and, of course, “The Four Agreements”)
  5. Anything You Want” by Derek Sivers
  6. Sapiens” by Yuval Harari.
  7. “Jesus’ Son” by Denis Johnson (not fiction, not non-fiction, but the best written book ever. You will improve as a writer if you read this book).
  8. The Rational Optimist” by Matt Ridley (and the Evolution of Everything by him)
  9. Bold” by Peter D. and Steven Kotler
  10. Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell
  11. Peak” by Anders Ericsson
  12. The Surrender Experiment” by Michael Singer (along with The Untethered Soul by him)
  13. Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist” by Stephen Batchelor
  14. Mastery” by Robert Greene (and the just release, “Laws of Human Nature”)
  15. Zero to One” by Peter Thiel
  16. War of Art” by Stephen Pressfield (and “Turning Pro“)
  17. Post Office” by Charles Bukowski (supposedly fiction, but actually non-fiction).
  18. Purple Cow” by Seth Godin (and all of his books).
  19. Maus” by Art Spiegelman
  20. On Writing” by Stephen King
  21. How We Got to Now” by Stephen Johnson (and his book on ideas)
  22. “Ready. Fire. Aim” by Michael Masterson
  23. Sick in the Head” by Judd Apatow
  24. Born Standing Up” by Steve Martin
  25. The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle (and “Practicing the Power of Now” by him)
  26. “A Thousand Thanks” by AJ Jacobs (all his books)
  27. “Freakonomics” by Stephen Dubner
  28. “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” by Tucker Max
  29. “Perennial Seller” by Ryan Holiday
  30. “Meditation is for Fidgety Skeptics” by Dan Harris
  31. “Tools of the Titans” by Tim Ferriss
  32. “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson
  33. “I Am That” by Nisargadatta Maharaj
  34. “Influence” by Robert Cialdini (and “Pre-suasion”)
  35. “Love Yourself…” by Kamal Ravikant
  36. “Mastering Fear” by Brandon Webb
  37. “Thinking in Bets” by Annie Duke
  38. 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman
  39. How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World” by Harry Browne
  40. A Million Little Pieces” by James Frey
  41. What We Talk About When We talk about Running” by Haruki Murakami
  42. The Blue Zones” by Dan Buettner
  43. The New Evolution Diet” by Art Devaney
  44. Poking the Dead Frog” by Mike Sacks
  45. “The Tools” by Barry Michels
  46. Small Victories” by Anne Lamott
  47. Meet Your Happy Chemicals” by Loretta Breuning
  48. “12 Rules for Life” by Jordan Peterson
  49. “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink
  50. “Can’t Hurt Me” by David Goggins

And of course, “The Tao Te Ching” by little-known author, master pastry chef, and cross-country skier, Lao Tzu.

This is NOT a complete list. I’ve left out books that should be #1. This is not in any order. These are just books off the top of my head on a pre-coffee morning.

These are not even my top 200 books. Or 400. I’ve left out too many great writers, books, knowledge.

But each one of these books I’ve read at least twice. At least five of these books I’ve read over 100 times. One book I’ve read over 300 times.

(from my comic book, “The Altucher Confidential”. I want to be the Hero of my story).

Note: I’ve left out 1000 books. I’ve left out so many that when I look at this list I feel horrible.

This is not in any order. But I love these books. And 1000 more. I’ll list more on future lists. I’ll add to this one.

Forgive me. But read these books.

Every one of these books I’ve read twice. Some 100+. And, at least two, over 300 times.

The worst thing about this list is the number of books I’m leaving off.

The best thing about this list is that every single one of these books has changed my life.

These books changed me from a victim to a hero.

And so has therapy.

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