"Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren't very new after all."
– Abraham Lincoln
The Evidence: Bill Gates reads 50 books a year. David Rubinstein aims for six books a week. Warren Buffett blasts through 500 pages a day. And Elon Musk? Well, he'll just tell you this:
From Oprah Winfrey to Mark Cuban, Neil Gaiman to Phil Knight. Successful businesspeople, artists, innovators, and entertainers alike: they all love to read.
Why? Books are a source of nearly endless knowledge and timeless wisdom. They provide invaluable lessons from history, house some of man's greatest ideas, and teach us practical skills. They are, according to Franz Kafka, "the axe for the frozen sea within us."
Now, I don't think we need to read thousands of pages a day. Not all of us have the luxury of a billionaire's schedule. But a handful every year could suffice for all of us.
Need some suggestions? Find below seven of my favorite books, ranging from satire, psychology, business, investing, to self-help. They truly clarified my perspective of the world and introduced me to some hugely impactful ideas. And I hope they may do the same for you.
So here they are...
What Makes Sammy Run
Budd Shulberg (1941)
Gist: A "fake it till you make it" rags to riches story. Sammy is a poor immigrant kid from New York pushing his way to make it in Hollywood. He's a charismatic screenwriter, a hard-working hustler, an aggressive back-stabber. He's on the fast track, running to the top of the film industry by any means necessary. But when will all that running finally catch up to him?
Read this book if you're a Type A, ambitious workaholic always making sacrifices to get the perfect career, recognition, and financial success you desire. You might just re-think whether those sacrifices are worth it in the long run.
12 Rules for Life
Jordan Peterson (2018)
Gist: The kick in the ass we all need. Not your typical self-help book. Peterson draws from history, religion, philosophy, biology, psychology, and beyond to construct timeless wisdom for a meaningful life. Don't compare yourself to others. Stop constructing white lies to make others feel better. Fix your posture. These rules fortify us from the inevitable challenges we all face as we march through life and hope to find lasting success and happiness.
Read this book if you're looking to make a big change – in your career, relationships, or yourself – but don't know where to start. You can learn how to better navigate the harsh and unpredictable realities of the world. Don't worry: there's none of that banal "just go out and do it" fluff.
Fooled by Randomness
Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2001)
Gist: The world is more random than we think. Successes and failures – in business, investing, art, life – are not just due to hard work and networking, but to plain old luck too. Sadly, we often miss this crucial component. Instead, we prefer to invent causes or reasons to explain why various events happen, even when these explanations are wrong. We are "fools" of randomness, trying to predict the future, the markets, the customer's reaction, when this is often impossible.
Read this book if you have an interest in investing, economics or business strategy. You will realize a lot of commentary from Wall Street, busines journals, or the news is wrong or misleading. You will realize you understand the world less than you thought. This is as humbling as it is refreshing.
Robert Greene (2012)
Gist: An indispensable guide for finding your true calling in life. Greene examines hundreds of "masters", like da Vinci, Einstein, Jung, and Franklin, to reveal the common practices and traits among them. They worked a lot harder than you may think. Greene is one of my favorite writers, with his well-researched, intoxicating prose that leaves you thinking about his books months after you've finished them.
Read this book if you're feeling unfulfilled and hollow at work, but don't quite know why. You might be in a field or job that's not your true calling. Mastery will provide the guidance and inspiration for you to start planning your transition to a more fulfilling career. Already on the right path? Mastery also discusses the importance of mentorship and the challenges of managing success.
George Saunders (2000)
Gist: Six short stories you'll never forget. They are twisted, wacky, hilarious, and on occasion, deeply unsettling. A balding, unmarried barber struggles to get back in the dating game. A father in a mid-life crisis dreams for a sudden change in his life at the worst possible moment. A poor couple, working as actors in a human zoo, navigate some absurdly bureaucratic corporate politics. Be prepared for highly absurd, highly quotable storylines.
Read this book if you're looking for stories with an edge. They are dystopian, depressing, and weird as hell, but of course, still oddly relatable. Perfect for a casual afternoon of reading.
The Happiness Hypothesis
Jonathan Haidt (2004)
Gist: A fascinating book on positive psychology. What makes us happy? We get advice from parents, hear quotes, read proverbs, observe other people, but it still can feel like a mystery. Haidt finally gets down to the highly anticipated answer with a simple, intuitive theory of his own, supported by decades of academic research and wisdom from some classic philosophers.
Read this book if you're interested in positive psychology. This a great place to start. It's unfair to categorize this as mere "self-help." Haidt dives into neuroscience, theology, and Freudian psychology, but keeps topics high-level and practical for the casual reader in mind.
Bo Burlingham (2005)
Gist: A book detailing businesses that choose to be "great" instead of just "big." We often fetishize growth! too much in business. The classic mantra: grow, scale, disrupt, think big, eat the world. Find more users, customers, suppliers, capital. Keeping going, keep growing, keep winning until...what? Burlingham argues constant growth isn't always so good for a business. He examines 14 companies that consistently deliver high quality products and services, return solid profits to its shareholders, and make a big difference in their local communities. And these companies are happy just where they are: under the radar.
Read this book if you're interested in learning more about business, but you're tired of the stereotypical "more is merrier" doctrine. Most businesses in America are small shops, local banks, or gourmet grocers you've never heard of. But they still make money. Shouldn't we learn how they run, too?