One of the amazing things about books is that you can get years or even decades of knowledge, experience, and expertise put down into a few hundred pages and handed to you to grab at a young age. In only days. That’s really stunning when you think about it.
I’ve always been a HUGE reader, although it took me a very, very long time to get into non-fiction. Which is really a shame, because I feel like if I had picked up a lot more good non-fiction 15 years earlier I’d be much further along than I am at the moment.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
I don’t even know how to begin with how amazing this book is.
Aside from a truly amazing title, Steven Pressfield pulls from a really remarkable life story that feeds into a LOT of downs before finally learning to see life differently in a way that allowed him to regain control once again.
The War of Art is an incredibly quotable book that has clear easy to read chapters. They are directly to the point, profound, and give powerful advice.
Many times I’d read 200 words, stop, and contemplate that short chapter for minutes or even hours.
Sometimes through an entire 90 minute workout. He could pack that much amazing deep contemplation into so few words.
After which sometimes the mind felt more worked out than the body and it was wonderful.
The War of Art does the best job of any book I’ve ever read on dealing with procrastination, with laziness, with those whispering thoughts that bring fear into your life and hold you back.
Tagged The Resistance by Pressfield, this book is beautifully detailed and describes life, challenges, and all that entails in a way that is easy to understand and impossible to forget.
The Most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today’ we put them off till our deathbed.Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
Walking through this book is encouragement, it’s personal growth, it’s philosophical growth, and while that can sound scary, the writing is simple and direct, making all these topics amazingly accessible.
This is a life-changing book. While focused on art and creativity, it can apply to business, life, and so many other things, as well. I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s one of the very few non-fiction books I re-read, and I re-read this multiple times a year.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
Yeah, this is one of those books that’s on ever list of life-changing books and there’s a reason for that. Forming habits is really freaking hard. And yet it is absolutely necessary in most cases for major positive life changes that actually stay with you.
Atomic Habits can be a bit dense at first read, but that’s just a sign to slow down and instead of reading this book like you would a conventional novel, and to apply what the chapters are teaching bit by bit.
Building off of concepts that will be familiar with anyone who has read about Kaizan (more on that down below) this book does what no others do: provides an ultra simple to implement step-by-step plan to actually turn theory and plan into an actual
Figuring out how to instill micro habits into larger habits via anchoring was an absolute life-changer!
Even if you’ve struggled to make new habits before, and in fact especially if you have had this struggle before, then this book is going to give steps so easy its harder not to do them and to be lazy than to start the anchoring process.
This isn’t a quick fix – because there’s no such thing. But more than any other book on this list it gives the nuts and bolts tool kit so whether it takes months, a year, or a couple years you can get yourself up to the uber self you dream of doing – and this book teaches you how to make it second nature to the point of being habit.
Amazing book, and an absolute tool box and guide to using small practices that work to help you get to whatever habits you need to achieve your goals, whatever they may be.
Unfu*k Yourself by Gary John Bishop
First of all, how can you not love the title. Straight to the point with a Scottish directness that I appreciate it, this is a shorter book but it is packed with fantastic information, no-nonsense encouragement, and the type of direct accolades and tough love that almost everyone needs at one point or another.
Unfu*k Yourself is a great book that does a really great job of showing you how you are your own worst enemy, how much of an illusion this pessimistic self-destructive side of yourself truly is, and empowers you through direct encouragement, wit, and a bit of tough love via urban philosophy to help you realize you are the hero of your own life. And you have the power, nay, the responsibility to take it back.
This book won’t be for everyone, but if you’ve found some self-help books seem to have decent messages but they never quite resonate enough to push you towards taking action, this might be the one that breaks the streak and gets you moving.
From there grab The War of Art and Atomic Habits and you’ll be on your way!
Important note: The audiobook version on Kindle is read by the author. Personally I love this because I love Scottish accents but for people who have trouble understanding sometimes heavy accents, you may want the written version (I have both).
Be Obsessed or Be Average by Grant Cardone
I will say that although it’s good in any form, the Audible version where Grant narrates is absolutely the best version and the one that you should purchase if you want the biggest impact of the work. The energy of the reading dives into his background, builds up an excitement, and talks about the necessity of obsession, firing after those goals and dreams, and not letting mediocrity slow you down.
This is the most replayed audible book in my Audible library, and it’s one that is my go-to when I need to get fired up. It’s also my favorite Grant Cardone work in part because it’s about getting fired up in getting to goals and working like crazy to find a purpose and build off that as opposed to just sales which honestly, just isn’t my thing.
Whatever you think of Grant Cardone, his energy is through the roof, his life story is pretty amazing, and although there are plenty of things he preaches I don’t agree with – he keeps me thinking, keeps me challenging my beliefs (and others), and from that high energy and bombarding of ideas you find yourself looking at many different beliefs from various angles and sometimes this brings out a new insight.
At the very least it causes the neurons to start firing in the brain.
High energy, challenging thoughts, and some great advice on journaling, feeding dreams to make them reality versus just goals on paper, and you have a seriously motivational work in Be Obsessed or Be Average that I’ve found incredible and always helps to give me a serious kick in the butt when I find my work energy lagging.
This is a book that just works to push you to expand and improve your life wherever you are in the process or with whatever that means to you.
The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy
The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy is book is a bit more heady, but it’s worth the read. That doesn’t mean it’s abstract, but if you’ve ever run across a retirement video, a FIRE video, an investment video, or enough self-help and you have almost certainly heard the story about Einstein calling compounding the mot powerful force in the universe.
While it can be annoying seeing so many playing lip service to this idea without really giving actionable steps to take, Hardy focuses on tying daily habits or decisions to long-term effects both good and bad that are a result of these much smaller and seemingly insignificant decisions.
Hardy was ahead of the curve and helped pave the way for books like Atomic Habits that would follow. Often mentioned in tandem with Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, you might be tempted to skip this book but that would be a mistake.
This book nails the problem of consistency, of strategies to help you install habits without having to worry about emotions and motivation, and master techniques, strategies, and habits that can help you focus on the daily small yet important steps that come together to let you really take control of your life and keep moving towards success (however you choose to define that) so instead of dreaming about the ideal life, you actually are moving towards it.
Like I said earlier, a bit more cerebral.
The Kaizan Way: One Small Step Can Change Your Life by Robert Maurer, Ph.D
This is a book that I’ve re-read 3-4 times over the years. Kaizan was a fascinating idea of improvement through the smallest and most incremental of steps.
This steady which lead to astounding results not from stress but from natural accumulation of the benefits from so many tiny improvements over time.
If this sounds a lot like what was mentioned under Atomic Habits, I find the two very much go hand in hand.
I found this book first and it helped me take a look at self-improvement very different in a way that has been incredibly helpful and arguably even made me
The Kaizan Way by Robert Maurer is the best book I’ve found on the topic. It explains the philosophy of Japanese management clearly, gives solid examples, and uses language that is very simple, easy to explain, and how to apply it.
An excellent book that stands alone, or pairs with Atomic Habits.
It’s one that has stuck with me and I feel like I can recommend it whole heartedly!
I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Rahmit Sethi
I made the same mistake that so many people have with this book: I stayed away from it for years because the name sounded super spammy and arrogant. That was a serious mistake. This is an extremely good book with practical advice, helpful scripts, and direct action and financial education that works for people at every income level to understand what they need to do, what options are there, and what the next steps are after that.
Despite the title designed to grab attention no matter how infomercial it sounds, the information inside the book is rock solid and walks through the many different parts of helping to set your finances right and put them back on the right track.
There’s even a way to free preview whether you like his voice/advice before buying:
If you haven’t heard the podcast episodes on the Timothy Ferriss podcast with Rahmit Sethi I highly recommend them. They’re extremely good episodes loaded with great information, as well as some background that gives you all you need to know for whether or not Rahmit sounds like who you want to get advice from.
While the title may sound spammy and it designed to clearly sell, the scripts in the book are outstanding, the information is top-notch, and no matter where you are in your investing journey or career journey you will want to take a look at what’s offered.
This is one of the single best financial books I’ve ever read and is the only one that I re-read every year (the other one being The Richest Man in Babylon). Don’t make the same mistake I did with this book at let the title put you off.
This is a life-changing resource and the sooner you start learning its lessons, the better.
Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins
An incredible story of overcoming hardship, Goggins has exploded on the self-improvement scene because his no-nonsense approach to well, everything. While a lot of self-help gives the promise of getting rid of pain, Goggins goes the other way and says if you want the life you deserve, you want to live up to the potential, you need to embrace pain and hardship.
Because only on the other side of that is the character, the skills, and the fulfilled potential of that person you truly can be and want to be. No short cuts, no easy way out, no thinking you’re giving 110% when honestly you’re capping out the moment it gets uncomfortable at 20%.
Goggins tells of an unbelievably tough and tragic childhood, one that he refuses to use as an excuse for how things worked in his life. Then the transformation of a 300 lb loser at a dead end job to dropping over 100 lbs in three months and making it into the Navy Seals.
Now he is widely considered one of the toughest men on planet earth. Ultra marathon runner, world record holder in chin ups, successful writer and speaker, his story is incredible and the no-nonsense approach he takes to embracing pain and hardship to grow to your full potential flies in the face of most self-help, but it empowers you to push yourself to see what you’re really and truly capable of.
And that place is where you will find your happiness.
This book is amazing, the audiobook has additional content and reflections on his life story by Goggins himself and if you haven’t seen him on YouTube – go when you need a life-changing kick in the ass.
Deep Work by Cal Newport
There are a lot of books on here about taking small steps, adopting small habits, racking up those small victories. These are great pieces of advice and they add up but they also are habits that come together to give you the tools to get to doing deeper impactful work, as well.
Deep Work by Cal Newport focuses on not just the habits, the common ability to do low cognitive level work, but how to make those positive habits and growth contribute to the ability to sit down and actually deep dive into a topic.
That level of deep intensive work for even short bursts can have life-changing effects and is compared almost to a “superpower” that was always hard to find but is especially rare in today’s 21st century world.
By not only staying to the strategies of slow steady improvements but also adding the ability to prime yourself for in-depth work you can slowly build up the habit of heavy focus and deep concentration as you focus and deep dive into the most important work.
Doing this not only lets you do better, more impactful work, but also produce more, better work at a much, much faster rate. Thus opening up time for even more improvements.
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
The Tipping Point is a fascinating study into how ideas, thoughts, plans, or projects hit that critical mass that takes them from unknown to world famous viral ideas or sensations.
Why is it that some ideas, projects, or businesses seem to idle for months or years before exploding, changing the lives of those involved forever while others just seem to flounder and never take off?
Gladwell does an in-depth study of “tipping points.” Studying the influences, changes, or shifts that seem to happen at that exact moment things change to figure out why some ideas take off and others don’t. To learn what influences really move that needle just enough so the scales tip.
The tipping point is a fascinating study in how ideas spread, comparing them to a pandemic. What is that exact point, what are the factors that determine which ideas take off and which die?
Honestly, I feel like I need to re-read this book a few more times. It’s one of those that makes you really think and analyze the data-driven ideas that he provides to study this fascinating topic.
Every time I do dip back into the book, I feel like I learn something new and get a better understanding of how ideas that take off do so.
One of the headier books on this list, but a great one. There’s a reason this author appears twice on my short list of life-changing books.
Speaking of which…
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
This is an amazing book, but I’ll warn you that if you’re in the wrong mindset this can be a rough one. I refer to it as the “good news, bad news” book on this list and I think that’s a pretty fair point. Gladwell continues his examination of success, noting that in many ways these are outliers from the average, especially those generally considered “massive successes” and he wanted to know what these outliers had in common.
If you could find a lot of consistent traits, then this could help unlock how success works, how environment fostered and affected (or didn’t) success in adult life, and that understanding could even be used to help see who was at the most risk for failing to rich this outlier status.
The bad news? It’s data-driven. So if you’re like me you’ll go down the list of major influences and realize “Oh shit, I’m not imagining things, the deck was stacked against me.”
The good news? Since he’s not spouting bullshit about how everything is always under your control, since he talks about things you’ve probably noticed and were tired of telling you wasn’t an advantage for them/disadvantage for you, you feel better looking at the data points you can influence and change and doing so.
This isn’t a self-help or self-improvement book despite the topic. It’s a data driven study that really lays out what common traits come up versus those that never do, and this information can be huge in changing the course of your life.
Understanding how mastery and opportunity work, and what factors influence them, makes clear how important it is to be ready when opportunity does present itself and brings home how to prepare yourself to have the right skills and prep yourself to be in the right place when that opportunity comes.
The Alchemist by Paulo Cohelo
I first received this book from my grandmother when I was in high school, and it was a delightful read that has really stuck with me. An allegory that tells a wonderful journey of that the protagonist must undertake in order to discover the world, as well as his place in it.
What follows is an adventure that is highly entertaining and draws the reader in using master story telling techniques, pulls through a journey, and ends up with a deep lesson on self-discovery, growth, and fulfilling into one’s destiny wrapped up in one.
It’s the type of story that can be given to teenagers to enjoy a read, and the lesson that hits is a bonus to help guide them towards the adult life.
Fun Fact: Once had a major argument about this book with a young woman I was crushing on in badly. Should have took the “This is stupid, (spoiler, followed by completely missing the point.” as the dire warning it turned out to be.
Good literature doesn’t lie.
The Alchemist is an international best seller and a book that has been read and loved by millions. Grab yourself a copy and join the group to find out why.
Check for current pricing on Amazon.com
Honorary Books (i.e. these books can absolutely change your life or at least empower you to do so)
- Awaken The Giant Within by Tony Robins (Definitely hype up/fire up, but it can be huge especially if you catch it at the right time in your life)
- The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason (Should be mandatory financial reading education for every junior high in the United States)
- The 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss (This was an incredible resource years ago. At this point so much has changed that about 50% of the information is out of date HOWEVER it’s important to note that the strategies and examples outlined here are amazing and there’s a reason this book seems like a bedrock to, well, everyone in certain entrepreneurial spaces)
- Extreme Ownership by Jocko Wilinik, Leif Babin (Incredible work from former Navy Seals, Jocko also has a pretty great podcast)
- Trust Me I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday (Eye opening for sure)
- The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (Wasn’t my jam as much, but it was interesting and many of my friends swear it was the book that turned their lives around so it’s definitely worth the read)
- The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz (This was much more my jam on the “spiritual” side of things)
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (Rock-solid choice and it almost made the cut for my top picks)
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl (This is a heavy, heavy read – be warned, but it will change you)
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig (This is a modern classic for a reason)
- The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciples into Massive Success and Happiness by Jeff Olsen (Another rock solid choice)
- Think Like a Monk Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day by Jay Shetty (Success starts in the mind)
- Emergency This Book Will Save Your Life by Neil Strauss (Real life skills that cause your mind to open up to worst case scenarios, training for them, and in the form of a real life story that will cause you to look at your own evolution of place in society, as well)
- Milk the Pigeon by Alexander Heyne (Labeled as a field guide for your 20s but applies to so many more people as well – and this would be powerfully amazing in the hands of a young 20-something)
That’s my list. There are many very good non-fiction books that I’ve enjoyed or found useful but aren’t on here. If anything that should be a sign of just how many truly great and potentially life-changing books are out there in hardcover, paperback, or Kindle.
This list represents decades of knowledge, studies, and centuries of life, job, and philosophical experiences. The massive incredible turnaround in my own life is in many ways directly attributable to many of the books on this list. So grab the ones that sound right for where you’re at and dig in.
This is your time to make your mark, however you personally define that, and these books will pave the way.