What Are The Top Ten Must-Read Books That You Can Recommend?
It’s straight-up INFURIATING how many “must-read” books there are out there. Don’t people know that there are only 72 hours in a day?!?!
Well, I agonized over this list a little bit and I was able to pick 10 books out of my list of favorites (77 favorite books in total) that I would consider “must-reads”.
You may feel differently of course, and that’s cool too. I’m just happy that people still read at all!
Even so, I wasn’t able to keep it to JUST 10, so I included a some “honorable mentions” at the bottom.
And on my website is the full list of every single book I’ve ever read, along with some other cool reading-related resources and free stuff, like my near-daily email course on the “great books”.
Alright, The List:
There’s a famous passage in this book that deals with the fact that our earth is the only home we’ve ever known. Everyone who has ever lived, everyone who has ever struggled to achieve a vision, raise a family, conquer a nation, has done so right here, on our one and only Earth. The whole book is spectacular, but it’s worth it for that one passage alone.
A huge part of my entire ethical system comes straight from Simone Weil; she’s an absolute HERO to me. She also taught me how to listen. She taught me that the only possible “proof” for the existence of God is the proof from love, because anything that is not love has nothing to do with God. And it breaks my heart that she starved herself to death after pledging to only eat as much food as the people in France were allowed to have while they were occupied by Nazi Germany in the Second World War. A definite must-read.
When you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. This is one of the ideas that underpins this sensational book, and it has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide since its publication. The story itself is about a shepherd boy in Andalusia who abandons everything in search of buried treasure, but it’s about so much more than that.
Thoreau was one of the famous American “transcendentalists” and this book is a memoir from the time when he built his own cabin in the woods and lived there by himself for two years in the mid-1850s. You’ve heard people quote this book before. “Only that day dawns to which we are awake” is one of my favorites, along with “I know of no more encouraging fact that the unquestionable ability of man to elevate himself through conscious endeavor”.
Meditations is the name given to the published version of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ private notebooks. It’s…incredible. I mean, it’s a freakin’ EMPEROR writing notes to himself about what it means to be self-sufficient, noble, just, and to act with dignity and purpose. It’s one of the foundational texts of the philosophy of Stoicism and it’s a must-read if there ever was one.
In Bradbury’s dystopian future, fireman don’t fight fires; they burn books. Books are forbidden, and Guy Montag, a fireman, starts to wonder what’s in those books after all. He witnesses a woman prefer to be burned alive than to give up her forbidden books and begins to smuggle them home himself. Without spoiling too much, he gets caught and has to run for his life. This is a story about books, their power, and the people who read them.
Alan Watts was known as the foremost interpreter of Eastern philosophy in the West. He’s completely and totally brilliant, and I’ve read probably half a dozen of his books, and a collection of his personal letters. Safe to say, I’m a superfan. Watts talks about the fundamental nature of reality, and how we are each, as individuals, something that the universe is “doing”, in the same way that a wave is something the whole ocean is doing.
I’m not a huge fan of science fiction, but Heinlein is INCREDIBLE. This is the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human born on Mars and raised by Martians who comes back to Earth and starts his own religion. But it’s not entirely “about” that; it’s about personal responsibility, the purpose of human existence, human frailty and vice, and the possibility of our eventual transcendence.
Ernest Becker won a Pulitzer Prize for his examination of the subconscious fear of death and its impact on human behavior. The Denial of Death is his masterwork, and it’s simply phenomenal. Everything that people do all day makes so much more sense after reading it; people have a desperate need to feel themselves to be objects of value in a universe of meaning, and if you don’t understand that, then you don’t really know anything about people.
I round off the list with an amazing collection of essays by Tim Kreider. This book made me laugh out loud in public, and I think about some of these essays constantly. There’s a psychological depth here that’s undeniable, but on top of that, Tim has actually LIVED. He’s thought deeply about what we give up when we get older, what it’s like to almost die, what our responsibilities are to our aging parents, what true friendship actually is, and why people behave in crazy ways. I felt almost every emotion there is to feel during the time I spent reading and loving this book. Highly, HIGHLY recommend.
Eastern Wisdom, Modern Life, by Alan Watts
The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl
Tao Te Ching, by Lao-Tzu
On the Shortness of Life, by Seneca
Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse
Where Children Sleep, by James Mollison
The Art of Loving, by Erich Fromm
The Wisdom of Insecurity, by Alan Watts
The Sane Society, by Erich Fromm
A Year of Living Generously, by Lawrence Scanlan
An Imperfect Offering, by James Orbinksi
The Birth and Death of Meaning, by Ernest Becker
Paradise Lost, by John Milton
The Hero With a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell
The Myth of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus
Tools of Titans, by Tim Ferriss
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
The Perennial Philosophy, by Aldous Huxley
The Good Book, by A.C. Grayling
Escape From Evil, by Ernest Becker
The Life You Can Save, by Peter Singer
Thus Spake Zarathustra, by Friedrich Nietzsche
But What If We’re Wrong, by Chuck Klosterman
Every Cradle is a Grave, by Sarah Perry
Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk
Gateless, by Sebastian Marshall and Kai Zau
Vagabonding, by Rolf Potts
Doing Good Better, by Will MacAskill
Against Happiness, by Eric G. Wilson
Book by Book, by Michael Dirda
Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke
Anthem, by Ayn Rand
A Guide to the Good Life, by William B. Irvine
Tribe of Mentors, by Tim Ferriss
Even the honorable MENTIONS are spectacular; I can’t even adequately express what reading all these books has done for me as a person.
Because I’m a huge nerd, I actually take notes on every single book that I read, and those notes are organized by book and by year. It’s GOTTA be over a few thousand pages by now…
Anyway, I hope something on that list catches your eye and that your future is full of the best books!
All the best,
PS. On my website, you can see my full reading list, as well as get access to ALL my notes on every single book I’ve ever read. Along with some other cool stuff that other big readers have loved. Check it out!