15 Books that Shaped My Mind and Changed My Outlook on Life
The title says it all, doesn’t it? I see people put up their book lists from time to time and while I’m generally not a big list person, they do serve a purpose and when structured properly, they provide value. I’ve received some incredible book recommendations from fellow writers here on Medium that have inspired me and taught me valuable, new information this year.
I’ve loved sharing my journey with all of you on Medium. I wanted to share more about some of the books that have shaped the way I think and why I live my life with strong faith, optimism, purpose and a thirst for knowledge. Several people have asked me recently what inspires me and what books have helped form the foundation of my values system and beliefs.
Here are 15 books (in no particular order) that have helped me in business consulting, writing, personal relationships, basketball coaching, career coaching, networking, spiritual growth, understanding history, imagination and love. I’m not including links in the hope that you will find them through your own intellectual curiosity, whether in the library, online or through your network of friends.
The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
How in the world could an autobiography written by a Trappist monk, who decided to live his life in seclusion beginning at age 26, have such a profound effect on so many people? Take an extremely well-educated man with an adventurous upbringing, introspective thought, emotional intelligence, love, heartbreak, hope, faith and wonder along the journey of life, roll it all into the backdrop of some of the most significant events in history, and you have the life of Thomas Merton.
A man who seemed to love attention but, who gave up a life in the world for life in a monastery. A man whose life, somehow, someway, prior to entering the monastery, mirrors so many of ours in so many ways. We all try to find ourselves in life and few tried as earnestly and lived with greater curiosity than Thomas Merton.
This book strengthened my faith and helped me to make sense of many things in my life. It inspired me to become a writer, to write my first book and to share my story, evolving thoughts and feelings with the world. It’s a beautiful message of the unraveling of fear, the courage to be yourself and the mental and emotional power necessary to make sense of why we’re here and what direction we wish to go in.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Do I think this is the best written book I’ve ever read? No. Are there parts that are sad and depressing? Yes. But there’s also a reason why this book endures, why several films have been made about it, including one starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and why its themes continue to have relevancy both to our personal journeys and those of the American spirit.
For me, The Great Gatsby is a tale of reinventing oneself, beginning anew, change and the desire to achieve success in society. It also took place not far from where I grew up, on Long Island. I’ve seen several of the modern day mansions and structures that were part of the “Gold Coast” of the north shore of Long Island during the Gilded Age.
Several publications, including Modern Library, have voted it the best American novel of the 20th Century. I appreciate the book for looking at issues like class, the desire to rise above our circumstances and the belief that we can always start again in life.
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
I found this book by doing research a few years ago on financial/investing books. Incredibly, despite the deceiving title, this book has very, very little to do with investing or making “riches” in the form of money. Quite the opposite. Instead, what Napoleon Hill talks about is the power to harness our faith, focus on desire, planning and positive attitude.
He spent many years of his life interviewing some of the titans of the 20th Century, people like Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford. He developed a foundation of positive thinking, principles and values that lead to long-term goal planning and success.
He discusses the need to rise above our circumstances by beginning in the power of our minds with an idea. How faith, desire, imagination, persistence and the help of others serve as a critical foundation that will get us to where we want to be in life. From there, initiative and action must take over. The book is part-personal success, part-self-help and part-philosophy. It is no slight exaggeration to say that this book changed my life.
Leading from the Heart by Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) and author Donald T. Phillips
I read this book three years ago right in the middle of basketball season while coaching a boys varsity team in New York City. I’ve never been a big Duke basketball fan so I’ve always kind of respected and admired Coach K — from a distance. This book changed my opinion of the man and provided me with insight into why his teams have been so successful. Preparation is paramount.
It provides a remarkable foundation of values, principles, plans and stories that can be implemented in our careers and personal lives. When we live with empathy, we attract greatness. We care more, love more and live more authentic lives. This book taught me how important it is to attract positive, industrious people into our lives and to build powerful relationships.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
My Uncle Brian recommended this book to me several years ago. But even then, it took me another few years to read it. I was skeptical at first because the title really threw me for a loop. “Win friends”?? Give me a break, I thought. Do me a favor- don’t grow cynical before you’ve read the book!
Like Think and Grow Rich, this is another classic self-help meets philosophy meets success book. Depending on what stage you are in your life, if you’re looking for inspiration and ways to leverage your ideas, creativity and influence, you’ve come to the right place.
The advice Carnegie puts forth has changed the way I view business interactions, marketing, networking, idea exchange, goal-planning and most significantly — emotional intelligence. While this book comes off as very much a business book — one particularly aimed at salespeople — make no mistake, this book is a treasure trove of emotional intelligence and wisdom.
Sacred Hoops by Phil Jackson and author Hugh Delehanty
I read this book during the final year of graduate school and it inspired me to become a high school basketball coach. One of the smartest and most satisfying decisions I’ve ever made. Phil Jackson is possibly the greatest professional basketball coach in history. He has won more NBA titles than any head coach and he has coached the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Scottie Pippen.
This book is about his spiritual and emotional journey through playing and coaching the game of basketball. But it’s so much more than that. It’s true art. It provides golden insight into the mind of one of the most brilliant professionals I’ve ever observed. It’s candid, real, bare-bones and filled with guidance that will help you construct your own narrative.
This book shaped my philosophy for how I develop and design my own personal approach. It’s invaluable for anyone in the coaching and teaching professions, as well as those who aspire to lead. It taught me that we need to be grounded in values and principles that stand the test of time, if we hope to shape the minds of others.
Inside-Out Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives by Joe Ehrmann
Another book that only furthered and supplemented my growth as a basketball coach, Joe Ehrmann’s part-biography, part-personal development book on his football playing and coaching experience is genius. It’s extremely inspirational yet at times depressing. It’s thought-provoking and dynamic.
Perhaps more than any book I’ve read, it cuts to the bottom-line of why we should do what we do and the way we will do it to be most effective. Made me think a great deal about my “Why” in life and the importance of servant leadership. This book really helped to bring to life the passions and dreams that I had inside of me that were waiting to come out.
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
Theodore Roosevelt is my favorite figure in American history and certainly one of my favorite people in history. His life story was so incredible, so full of accomplishments and so empowering, it should be read by all. This book focuses on the time from his birth to his rise to become President of the United States. Easily one of the best biographies I’ve ever read.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Theodore Roosevelt’s childhood home in New York City and also, Sagamore Hill, on the north shore of Long Island. You won’t find a bigger Theodore Roosevelt fan than I. This book helped to fuel that passion and inspired me with ideas for my own life.
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
If I could only include one C.S. Lewis book, this would be the one. Fair to say, the man is my favorite author and his imagination, wit, emotional intelligence, sentence construction and storytelling is unparalleled. He offers up his beliefs and his defense of the Christian faith. He does so in an inimitable way, detailing his own journey and providing logical thought and common sense.
C.S. Lewis is a literary genius because he is able to impart wisdom, for why he believes and feels the way that he does, better than any writer I’ve ever read. As a believer in God, I find that this book validates much of the way that I feel. I come back to it from time-to-time because it continues to help me to grow in my faith. This book has built my confidence and stimulated my intellectual thought like few other books have.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
The book that inspired my all-time favorite movie, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl’s children’s fantasy book is a world of pure imagination. It’s also really dark and at times creepy! It’s so unique and creative that it’s amazing someone came up with the idea for it in the first place.
This book is a great diversion away from the real world. The tale of the golden ticket, the lottery of sorts that fascinates every child (and adult’s) mind. The hope to live out one’s childhood dream. The notion that good intentions can and will lead us to our dreams. While it’s not a perfect book, it was instrumental in the development of my imagination and creativity. It made me realize just how important imagination is for a child to have.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
This is perhaps the most unrealistic real story that I have ever read. There’s no way it’s real. Except it is. There’s no way everything in this book really happened. Except, it did. Read about the life of one Louis Zamperini. I will not offer any more. Just go read the book.
JFK and the Unspeakable — Why He Died and Why It Matters by James Douglass
I grew up in an Irish-Catholic family in the northeastern part of the United States. Yet amazingly, it took me a while to read about the life of President John F. Kennedy. It took me longer to delve into the details surrounding his assassination. In the interest of time, I cannot possibly explain all of the reasons why you should read this book.
In so many ways, from the outside, this book seems like just another “JFK assassination” conspiracy theory tome. But it’s not. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read and while I am not sure I agree with every anecdote told in the story, I believe with a particular degree of certainty that many of the author’s facts, findings, research and primary accounts are valid — and extraordinarily compelling.
This book is actually MUCH more of a history book than simply an account for what happened on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. It’s much more concerned with the Why (hence the subtitle)than the, Who did it? The book tells about much of what was going on in the U.S. leading up to JFK’s murder. It tells about many of the key political players, as well as astonishing insights into the life of Lee Harvey Oswald and many others.
Douglass’ book forever changed the way I view the U.S. government, our power structure and the motivations of those in charge. Good God, please read this book. Then let me know your thoughts.
1776 by David McCullough
I read the “New England” portion of this book while I was living in Boston and, the “New York” portion while I was living in New York. This book’s subject, as you might expect, is the American Revolution and the events that lead up to it. One of the best history books I’ve ever read and a remarkable tale of how the fight for American independence began.
(The) Odyssey by Homer
An epic poem written in what is believed to be 8th Century BC, Odyssey by Homer is the story of Odysseus’ long, 10 year struggle as he tries to make his way home following The Trojan War. I’m a sucker for Greek and Roman history, as well as philosophy and mythology, so this book is right up my alley. The geography, history, imagination and personal journey enchant me and make me re-read this book from time-to-time.
The themes of wandering and testing both intrigue and fascinate me. If you want a great tale that will expand your mind and imagination, start here, with one of the oldest books you’ll find.
Interior Freedom by Fr. Jacques Philippe
Given to me by a close friend during a time of emotional pain and distress, I come back to read this book more than any other I own. It’s a very quick read — though then again, it’s not. Only 134 pages, it would seem that you can rip through this book in an hour. And maybe you can.
Though every time I try, I find myself turning back and re-reading the same page that I just read about 55 different times.
Interior Freedom is a treatise on emotional intelligence, faith in God, faith in ourselves, hope and love. It’s so full of wisdom, I shake my head with a grin each time I think about it. There are no wasted words. No pulled “punches.” It’s all value and no filler.
Particularly geared for those who believe in God and are Christians, I’d opine that this book puts forth personal development content intended for anyone looking to learn more about themselves. It’s a truly beautiful journey in personal discovery and soul-searching that will change your life. It most certainly did mine.