My life has been changed by a book a thousand times, and it always seems like a fresh fireworks display being set off between my ears. That’s really the only way — or the best way — I can explain the impact of a book that hits you just right. It’s nearly as hard as trying to explain a rainbow to someone who’s never seen one. Impossible, right?
Well here are a few dozen of my favorites, books that changed my life when I first read them, and continue to change my life in mysterious ways when I re-read them.
I’ll start with a few of my top favorites, and end with some lists by genre, with maybe a few surprise additions as we go along.
My reading list starts here:
The Book, by Alan Watts: Watts was the foremost interpreter of eastern philosophy for Western audiences, and I owe him my life. In The Book, he unveils the fundamental illusion that human beings are separate from the universe, that we somehow “came into” the world, as opposed to what we really did, which was “come out” of it.
Read this book to find out how you are something the universe is “doing” in the same way that a wave is something the whole ocean is doing.
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury: I’ve read this book over and over and over again and every time I do, I just love books more. It’s fiction, set in a dystopian future where books are banned, and where “firemen” don’t fight fires, but rather burn books. You may have seen the decent film adaptations.
Anyway, this is THE BOOK for book-lovers. Bradbury himself, being too poor to afford university spent every day for the better part of his 20s in the library, reading all the science fiction, all the philosophy, all the mystery, all the poetry, etc. Fahrenheit is basically his fictional ode to the power of books and literature to change individuals and societies, and a warning about what happens when societies turn their backs to that power. It’s so, so, so good. Gah!
Late Philosophical Writings, by Simone Weil: Albert Camus called Weil “the only great spirit of our time,” and I would have to agree. Or, at least, she was certainly one of them. She barely had anything published in her own lifetime (she died of malnutrition in Britain while refusing to eat more food than the French were allowed to have during Nazi occupation), but she was in no uncertain terms: brilliant.
I probably think about her 200+ times a year, and am frequently reminded by her that things like Goodness, Love, Beauty, Justice, etc are the only ends. Everything else…everything…are simply means to those ends.
This is a simply phenomenal book and I pretty much push it into the hands of anyone who shows more than a passing interest in this woman’s work and ideas. She was just incredible, in every sense of that word.
The rest of my TOP favorites you can find here on this page, but I want to mention a few more right here, and then list a few by genre down below:
1. Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius
2. Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
3. Paradise Lost, by John Milton
4. Cosmos, by Carl Sagan
5. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
6. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
7. Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse
8. The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand
9. The Art of Loving, by Erich Fromm
10. The Good Book, by A.C. Grayling
Those are all life-changing books for sure, but if you’re looking for more genre-specific recommendations…I got you :)
Let’s start with my favorite, philosophy. The word philosophy, of course, means “love of wisdom,” which makes it, by definition, a life-changing pursuit. Here are some of my favorite philosophy books for you to check out:
1. Thus Spake Zarathustra, by Freidrich Nietzsche
2. A Guide to the Good Life, by William B. Irvine
3. Every Cradle is a Grave, by Sarah Perry
4. Against Happiness, by Eric G. Wilson
5. The Myth of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus
6. The Hero With a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell
7. On the Shortness of Life, by Seneca
8. Don’t Be A Jerk, by Brad Warren
9. At the Existentialist Cafe, by Sarah Bakewell
10. The Outsider, by Colin Wilson (despite it’s #10 slot here, this is probably one of my favorite books of all time)
Alright, philosophy is covered. How about Self-Improvement? Let’s go:
1. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, by Scott Adams
2. The Strangest Secret, by Earl Nightingale
3. You Are a Badass, by Jen Sincero
4. This is How, by Augusten Burroughs
5. The Code of the Extraordinary Mind, by Vishen Lakhiani
6. The Urban Monk, by Pedram Shojai
7. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, by Mark Manson
8. Models, by Mark Manson
9. Choose Yourself, James Altucher
10. Gorilla Mindset, by Mike Cernovich
I can highly recommend ANY of those books. You may not love all of them — reading tastes diverge beautiful across humans — but they each changed my life in their own way.
Alright, so let’s do psychology next, then I’ll hit you with some life-changing novels. Then I’ll wait here until you thank me later!
1. The Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker
2. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl
3. Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly
4. The Sane Society, by Erich Fromm
5. The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt
6. The Birth and Death of Meaning, by Ernest Becker
7. Escape from Evil, by Ernest Becker
8. Your Erroneous Zones, by Wayne Dyer
9. The New Psycho-Cybernetics, by Dr. Maxwell Maltz
10. The Tools, by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels
Those are some the absolute BEST psychology books I’ve ever come across. Hands down. Some of these lists aren’t necessarily in order, but I think The Denial of Death has had the greatest impact on my thinking out of all of them. In a sentence, it’s about how the subconscious fear of death influences almost every single one of our decisions, every single day of our lives.
Next: Novels! I cannot WAIT for you to read some of these. Not on this list, however, is Cloud Atlas, which is also absolutely stunning. It’s six inter-locking narratives that sweep across time and all connect in their own ways at the end. Unreal book.
Anyway, we move on:
1. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury (Yes, this book again!)
2. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
3. Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse
4. Way of the Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman
5. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
6. Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk
7. Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
8. Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
9. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson
10. Ask the Dust, by John Fante
Alright, so that’s a pretty long answer to the question of “what are some life-changing books?’, but the crazy thing is that this isn’t CLOSE to the number of amazing, life-changing books there ARE out there! Not. Even. Close.
Welcome to the boundless and endless world of books and literature! Happy reading!
All the best,
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