7+ Books I Think You Should Read

Periodically (read: only twice before) I put together a list of books I think people should read. You’re a people, right? Whew. We can do this …

Some of these books have appeared on my other lists. This is more of a “Master List,” though it’s not very long. They’re listed in no particular order.

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina

This is the best, and most engagingly written, book I’ve read about how our brains work. Which is important for anybody who likes to do stuff. You like to do stuff, right? Cool. This is a book written for the layman. Easy to understand, thought provoking, and backed by research.

A selection of key points:

– We learn better when active. Exercise boosts brain power. “A lifetime of exercise can result in a sometimes astonishing elevation in cognitive performance, compared with those who are sedentary.”

– “Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth. The brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially, one at a time.” It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. Mythbusted!

– “The brain doesn’t pay attention to boring things.” If you’re teaching something make it interesting, and do something jarring/different approximately 10 minutes into any presentation. In other words, dull powerpoint presentations are not effective. If speaking publicly, your first 30 seconds is where you win or lose your audience.

– We forget things we learn very quickly. “90 percent within 30 days after learning.” Surprisingly, the majority of this forgetting happens “within the first few hours.”

– To remember something long term, we must be exposed to it regularly. Which is why the Anki flash card method is so popular with learning language vocabulary. It exposes you to words at increasing longer intervals as you learn them better.

– Our memories are much worse than we think and our brain fills in the gaps to make up for it. So stories from our past we think are true likely have parts we made up and don’t even know it.

I love this book. It was my favorite book I read in 2011 and I can’t think of anything that topped it in 2012.

Go Rin No Sho (The Book of Five Rings) by Miyamoto Musashi

This is the ultimate samurai sword fighting manual written by a legendary samurai. What? Don’t own a samurai sword? That’s OK, because Mr Musashi accidentally used sword fighting as a metaphor for life. Go Rin No Sho was written some time in 1600s and it’s as relevant for modern people as it was for the samurai warriors for which it was intended.

It’s available for free in various places around the web. Let me Google that for you.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

I haven’t read Influence for a couple years, but it’s one of the only books I have the audio version for as well. If you’re interested in how easily you’re influenced and how much power you have to influence this makes for a great read. Actually, I think whether you’re interested in psychology and sales or not this book is a must read for life.

Alternate: Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got by Jay Abraham. This one is not so much about psychology as how to sell in a way that’s beneficial to all parties, which does involve a bit of psychology. This was one of the founding ideas behind Only72. We created a win/win/win/win/win. (Contributors/buyers/us/affiliates/charity.)

Lying by Sam Harris

I’ve written about this one before. It’s a short read and I think it will do you well in all your relationships personal, professional, and otherwise.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

I’ve gifted this book quite possibly more than any other since I first read it in 2005. You’ve probably heard a lot about it over the past few years because it has become something of a phenomenon in entrepreneur/artist circles. The crux of the book is about something known as Resistance, which is what keeps us from doing the things in life we should be and want to be doing. It stops us from sitting down to create. Thankfully, it can be beat. One day at a time.

Alternate: Turning Pro, the sequel to The War of Art. Also very good. But I recommend The War of Art first and foremost.

A Guide To The Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

This is my favorite book I read in 2012. If my 8,000+ words of notes/highlights are any indication, I was quite engrossed. If you’ve never been exposed to Stoicism this is a great introduction.

Stoicism is not only a great philosophy of life, it’s a fantastic introduction to/portrayal of minimalism. Mr Irvine’s writing is clear and engaging, which you don’t often find in philosophical texts.

Alternate: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. (I’ve linked to a free version, though I don’t know how good the translation is.) Written by the well-known Stoic, I first read this a few years ago and it went down much easier for me than Seneca’s work.


Wrapping It Up

It’s difficult to come up with lists like this that don’t go on for pages and pages. I read about a book a week (yet, no matter how hard I try my Kindle queue is always about 50 books long!) and I’d recommend most of those books to certain people. I tried to include books here that I think most people reading this could benefit from and enjoy.

If you’ve got something good for me to read link to it in the comments. I especially like books about how our brains work, autobiographies, and fiction books that feel like true life (Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut being a recent example).

29 Responses to 7+ Books I Think You Should Read

  1. These all look good! Especially the first one – thanks!

    I read “So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love” by Cal Newport (he writes Study Hacks Blog) and really enjoyed it.

  2. Good list… excited to check out the last two.

    I’m reading Virus of the Mind by Richard Brodie and enjoying it. It’s about cultural memes and how they develop and spread.

  3. Three for you:
    The Success Equation, by Michael Mauboussin
    Antifragile, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
    Everything is Obvious (Once You Know The Answer), by Duncan Watts

  4. Read Pressfield’s War of Art – great! Have Lying on my Kindle and just purchased A Guide to the Good Life… Thanks for the recco’s!

  5. I have to second “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”. I have read most of the mastery/talent/practice books (and its getting to be a large (and growing) field), but Cals book is by far the standout to me.

    • Sweet, yeah, I’m a fan of his blog. To be honest, I take issue with outrageously priced kindle books when there are so many other books I have in my queue. But I’ll get to it at some point.

  6. Oliver Sacks writes fascinating books – balancing info about the brain with interesting anecdotes. I’d suggest starting with An Anthropologist On Mars.
    Sue Bender wrote a trio of books about simplicity that are a very easy read. I get something different each time I pick one up.
    The Art of Racing in the Rain by Stein was my fav fiction book last year. It is told from the dog’s point of view and has themes of loss and pushing through fear to reach your desire.

    • The Art of Racing in the Rain looks solid. I’ll check it out as one of the next fiction books I read. It was on sale for $2.99 and my fiction list is short. Been trying to expand into reading more fiction and I’m slowly finding the good stuff. Thanks Jennifer.

      I’m familiar with Oliver Sacks. Musicophilia has been on my radar for years, but I’ve yet to check it or anything else by him out. (I just looked at the Amazon page and see I bought it as a gift on Dec 2, 2008! haha)

  7. Love this list…and thanks for all the info!

    I just finished Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I highly recommend that one. I’m sure you’ve heard of his first book The Tipping Point?

    Sometime last year I read The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. I even have the audio book. Love it!

    Have you ever heard of Normal Blood Test Scores Aren’t Good Enough by Ellie Cullen? It would be right up your alley. She also did a documentary called The Incurables.

    Another good one is Guitar Zero by Gary Marcus. It’s written by a cognitive psychologist who writes about learning to play guitar as an adult and the science of learning.


    Keep the emails coming Karol! You rock!

  8. I recently finished “The Instructions” by Adam Levin and it instantly became one of my favorite books (partly due to the amount of time I sank in to devour every one of its 1000 pages).

    It basically about 4 days in the life of a 10 year old Jewish boy in a school lock-down program called the Cage. This book starts out with violence but blooms into romance, drama, religious and (jewish) social commentary, and comes to a epic climax. May not fit exactly into what you normally read, but defiantly a one of a kind read.

    I look forward to checking out some of the books you have recommended, especially Go Rin No Sho ;D

    • Thanks Chris. I read a bit more about The Instructions on amazon. I’m not sure it’s up my alley, but I appreciate you taking the time to make a recommendation.

  9. Eric Kanel’s “The Age of Insight …” is a bit of a tome yet a wonderful glimpse into the “Unconscious in Art, Mind and Brain.” Any of his books about the brain/mind are exceptional. http://www.amazon.com/Age-Insight-Understand-Unconscious-Present/dp/1400068711/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1354619883&sr=1-1

    Now that I’ve established myself as a geek, Barbara Kingsolver’s fiction is probably the only fiction that I read. She’s one smart writer. I’m not as fond of her essays and collection of essays as I am her novels: http://www.kingsolver.com/books/

  10. I would like to recommend my most favorite (yet) classic book which is “The Wisdom of the Sands“ written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

  11. Thanks for the list Karol. I’ve added “Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever” to my queue and like the idea of regular blood tests. I’m about 90 pages into “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” by Lou Aronica. Lots of info on how our brains work and why IQ tests are basically BS.

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