We’re always evolving and changing every day. Each new idea changes us in some way. This is true especially after reading a book. From just one book, we can get dozens of new ideas and insights. That’s why each book can change us in a radical way.
Here are the 15 books that changed my way of thinking:
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
This made me realize that human history is almost insignificant to the life of the universe. The world, galaxies, and universe are vast. Earth is smaller than a dot. And yet, we think that the whole universe should bend to our will.
The book is about physics and cosmology. After reading it, I immediately felt smarter. It’s like I came out of this small world. My mind was suddenly stretched. And somehow I started to think bigger.
After reading the book, I also felt small. I also realized that most things don’t matter. In the grand scheme of things, the universe will continue to exist or that life will go on no matter what we do in life. This made me feel that I should think less of what others will think of me. It lessened my fear and I started focusing on the big things.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
It’s a long novel. When I started reading it a few years ago, I just can’t stop. It deeply resonated with me at the time. That’s because I was thinking deeply about my work and the path I should pursue.
The Fountainhead is much more than a novel. It doesn’t just tell a story. It also tells a way to live and work. While reading it, my thoughts and beliefs were changing fast. There were also some parts that are already deep within me. But it was only the first time I saw it in other forms.
The novel is about a brilliant architect who never compromises his creativity. I got the feel that he doesn’t care about what others think. What matters to him is his craft and excellence. It’s my ideal. That’s hard to achieve in the real world. But it’s a worthy goal to aim for.
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Simplicity and economy are the two key lessons I learned from this book. After reading it, I examined some of my writings and realized that they violate those two key lessons.
The reason is we have the tendency to feel smart and important. We add clutter in our work and writing. Simple is not good enough. We use uncommon and difficult words. We also make our sentences longer than necessary. But the real answer to effective writing is being simple.
Simplicity is hard work. It means getting to the root of all things. It means focusing on the essentials. It’s back to the basics but it’s refreshing, especially now in our society filled with distractions and clutter.
I also realized that I should be clear and certain on what I’m saying. “Don’t be kind of bold. Be bold.” as Zinsser said. Be assertive and confident, especially when writing. This way it becomes more powerful and persuasive.
On Writing by Stephen King
Stephen King is the man. He regularly produces good novels. He’s a master storyteller and he loves writing. He didn’t stop with just one bestselling novel. He continues to write because he loves it.
That’s why the first time I heard Stephen King had written a book about writing, I immediately grabbed a copy. While reading, I immediately got the feel of King’s personality. I also found it entertaining. It’s almost like he’s always telling a compelling story.
Writing is always about telling a story one way or another. The same goes with thinking. Also, to tell a good story, we must have a rich idea bank we can rely on. This means we should have read a lot if we want to reliably produce good stories.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time to write. Simple as that.” Writing is hard work. Inspiration doesn’t come reliably. What we need is a routine and commitment to reading as much as we can and writing as well as we can.
A Guide to the Good Life by William Irvine
This introduced me to Stoicism (anyway, I wrote a book, Stoicism for Entrepreneurs and Freelancers). First, I realized that having a philosophy is important. It guides my life and it shortens my decision cycle. Second, it helps if I imagine what’s the worst that can happen. This way I’ll realize that it’s not that bad and I can always recover if I want to. Third, happiness is always within my grasp. I don’t have to wait for the perfect moment.
While reading this book, I felt calm. I think the goal of the book is to help us live a peaceful life. Just by reading the book per se, I think it made me live that peaceful life during those reading moments.
Stoicism is an ancient philosophy. But I believe it’s more relevant today because of our modern lives. Stoicism helped me focus on the essentials and live a more tranquil life.
How to Get Rich by Felix Dennis
I believe this is the most realistic book I’ve read about getting rich. It’s about hard work and focus. I also learned what it really takes to become rich.
The odds are not that good when it comes to getting filthy rich. Also, it’s likely that we’ll spend the best young years of our lives working hard. That’s why we should commit and love our work (or learn to love it so we’ll spend more time on it). Some are fortunate to skip long years of hard work. But for the most of us, we couldn’t count on that.
There are many books that tell the ways on how to get rich. Even in the most boring industries, there’s a way to get rich. But the question is: Are we willing to pay the price? Getting rich is hard. It’s not all about optimism. It’s also about luck, determination, commitment, and hard work (lots of it).
So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport
“Follow your passion.” That’s the most common advice in self-help books. However, it leads to unrealistic expectations and total disappointment. That’s because whenever we feel like we’re not following our “passion,” we also feel we’re wasting our time. This leads to regular job-hopping (without any particular reason in mind). It also leads to constant frustration.
I think the most dangerous thing about “following our passion” is not developing valuable skills. Our skills are what matter when it comes to earning money. Without it, we’re just another cog in the wheel that can be easily replaced. Well, in some cases we can get away with it. But that doesn’t give us complete fulfilment.
If we become so good that the world can no longer ignore us, opportunities naturally come. We now live in a world where the best naturally gravitates on top. The word spreads fast and people are getting better at determining who deserves to be rewarded.
Becoming so good can also give me satisfaction whenever I work. I don’t have to wait for the reward. The work itself is enjoyable already. This leads to putting in more time to become the very best in the field.
Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Fragile systems easily break when randomness and stress hits. Is getting strong and preventing randomness the solution? No. The author said it’s building antifragile systems.
What are these antifragile systems? These are the systems that benefit from randomness and stress. They become stronger as stressors are applied. The whole system also benefits while the individual parts experience failure.
We tend to prevent randomness. We love certainty and randomness fears us. But randomness can be a good thing if we know how to take advantage of it. For example, we can expose our work to randomness (sudden and massive luck) while limiting our downside. Randomness also makes us stronger. It keeps us on our toes.
TRANSCEND by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman
TRANSCEND stands for Talk with your doctor, Relaxation, Assessment, Nutrition, Supplements, Calorie Reduction, Exercise, New Technologies, and Detoxification. These are all needed to extend our lives.
It’s hard to be happy and productive if our bodies are unhealthy. That’s why I felt it important to read a book about health. Luckily, I encountered a good one which is TRANSCEND.
It’s full of scientific info that helped me learn about human body, metabolism, cancer, diabetes, and more. It helped me understand the science behind the most common diseases. Instead of believing every health article out there, I now know which ones to believe. Actually, it also helped me avoid reading health articles. That’s because I now know the principles.
The key lesson I learned here is we’re not built to consume more and stay dormant. We’re designed to consume just enough and stay physically active. Our bodies were optimized for the environments thousands of years ago. Human evolution wasn’t able to keep up with the industrial revolution.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
Before, I thought persuading someone is just a random thing. But after reading the Influence book, I realized that persuasion can somehow be manipulated. When I was reading it, I thought the book contains dangerous information. Scammers out there can use the info to get more victims.
However, I also realized that the info can benefit the world if we use them properly. We can persuade more people to support worthwhile causes. Also, more people should also read the book so they’ll be aware of the persuasion tactics used by scammers.
The Influence principles take advantage of our brain’s tendency to use shortcuts. We’re often overwhelmed with information and we need to decide fast. If we’re aware of that tendency, we’ll prevent ourselves from falling as victims.
The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber
Work ON your business, not in it. That sums up The E-Myth Revisited book. This is about the entrepreneurial myth where people with the technical know-how start a business but don’t actually know how business works.
We’re quick to assume that it’s all about the technical skills, determination, and hard work that will make our businesses become successful. However, just a quick look at the stats show that most businesses fail within a few years.
What should we do then? We should work ON our business. We should figure out how successful businesses work. We should also take time on analyzing our business. If we’re always working IN our business (opening the store, buying the supplies, taking inventory, negotiating, talking with employees), the business will take our whole lives. But if we work ON it, we’ll create systems so that we’re able to focus on the big things and gain more time.
The Martian by Andy Weir
I was not a fan of science fiction books. But after reading The Martian, I realized science fiction stories are cool.
This is hard science fiction. It means there’s emphasis on scientific accuracy and technical detail. It means it’s not too far off from reality. It’s a good thing because I learned cool science concepts (especially about botany).
The Martian is about an astronaut (Mark Watney) who was left on Mars by crewmates. They thought he was dead. Earth is millions of miles away from Mars. Watney then needs to rely on his knowledge and skills to survive long enough for help to come along. Improvising and sense of humor are his greatest tools.
Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
The Rework authors destroyed many assumptions about starting and running a business. For example, we don’t need to have 80-hour-workweeks to be successful. Just a few hours a week is enough to start something. Then more hours will be needed (maybe less than 40) to scale it up.
We also don’t need a lot of resources to start something and get the word out. With a bit of creativity and focus, we can accomplish a lot of things. Also, planning doesn’t matter a lot (especially long-term planning). Lots of things change even before we execute the plan. It’s better to act fast, limit our downside, and seek for immediate feedback.
I’ve heard that the book is full of unconventional advice. But I think many old-fashioned entrepreneurs are already following those advice. They also improvise and use whatever they have to stay profitable. They don’t follow the “conventional rules.” They apply what works.
It’s a good motivation and energy boost for me. After reading it, I immediately started a website. It didn’t become successful. But I got the habit of getting started (while limiting the risk). I also figured out immediately if it’s just a fleeting interest. I quickly moved on and started thinking of another venture.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
This is a classic. I think The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is the first book I’ve read that talks about being proactive.
Being proactive is important in becoming happy and successful. It means taking responsibility for our own actions and thoughts. It’s similar with Stoicism. We’re in charge of what we say, think, and do. We should not let external circumstances control our lives.
I also learned that responsibility means response-ability. It means we can choose our response. We can’t just let our instincts run our lives. We can choose how we respond. We can also choose how to live our lives.
I also learned about Sharpening the Saw. I must learn continuously and adapt according to present circumstances. It’s also about self-renewal and self-care. We are most effective if we always take care of ourselves. Instead of continuously cutting wood with the saw (and as a result making it dull), take some time sharpening it to reduce work time and make it more effective.
Deep Work by Cal Newport
This is timely and relevant to our modern age. Our lives (both personal and professional) are filled with a stream of distractions. This makes it hard to focus on what matters. The result is we’re having shorter attention spans and we can’t do meaningful work.
Many workers now are distracted. Every now and then, they check the email or getting disturbed by the boss or colleagues. This leads to loss of productivity. This also leads to us living stressful lives.
That’s why people who can focus on a cognitively demanding task for a long time can get good rewards. Applying deep work is a rare skill now. Those who can do it can get ahead and derive more satisfaction from their work.
While writing this, I applied Deep Work principles. I didn’t check email or social media. I just continued on writing until this is finished. As a result, I felt satisfied with my work. I was also able to finish this much earlier than expected.