The Greatest Books of All Time — How Many Have You Read?

Please don’t read this entire thing in one sitting. You’ll strain your eyes.

It currently comes in at over 15,000 words, including my best notes on each book.

What this list is for is to present my candidates for some of the greatest books of all time, and to challenge you to pick up a few of them for yourself, if you haven’t already.

People read for different reasons, and my list of the greatest books of all time may be completely different than other, very respectable lists.

Nonetheless, I am consumed with finding out what constitutes a meaningful life, and these books have shaped my thinking more than any others in that regard.

Some are fiction, some are nonfiction. Some are long, some are short. Some are difficult to get into but carry serious payoffs, and others are books whose messages are so piercingly clear and vivid that they can instantly change the entire trajectory of your life.

The various authors represented range from Marcus Aurelius, to Erich Fromm, to Alan Watts, and Carl Sagan. Ray Bradbury makes the list, as do Viktor Frankl and Paulo Coelho.

It’s a good group.

These are literally the best books that have ever been written, along with a few of my idiosyncratic personal favorites thrown in for good measure.

I can’t even describe what reading these and other such books has done for my own life, and these are the books that have the most “answers per page” of any others that I’ve ever come across.

Also, this list is sure to increase as I continue towards my goal of reading 1,000 books before I turn 30.

Below, I’ve included the title of each book, a short summary of what it’s about, some of the lessons I’ve personally taken from it, and at the bottom there is a list of “Honorable Mentions”.

Those are books that I thought were really, really good, but weren’t necessarily my absolute favorites.

I should also mention that these are in no particular order. Putting these literary treasures in descending order of greatness is simply beyond my humble capabilities.

You can also view my entire reading list (every single book that I’ve ever read), by following this linkHERE.

And you can download your free copy of my OWN book, The Godlike Discipline Handbook, by following this link HERE.

It features 13 concepts that are absolutely critical to achieving superhuman self-control, and gives 64 specific, actionable strategies to help you master self-discipline and willpower.

Lastly…remember always, that the person who reads books lives a thousand lives, but alas, the non-reader lives but once.

#1: “Meditations”, by Marcus Aurelius

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Summary: I know that I said that this list was in no particular order, but this may actually be my favorite book of all time. Marcus Aurelius was one of the Stoic philosophers, and he’s widely regarded as one of the five “good” emperors of Rome. The dude faced civil war, a crumbling marriage, invasions from the north, ailing health…and then wrote a book on how to rise above all that garbage and stand strong. This is one of the books that I push into other people’s hands most often.

My Favorite Notes:

“At some point you have to recognize what world it is that you belong to; what power rules it and from what source you spring; that there is a limit to the time assigned you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return.”

“Don’t ever forget what proportion of the world you make up.”

“Say nothing untrue and do nothing unjust.”

“Nowhere you can go is more peaceful, more free of interruptions, than your own soul.”

“Is it your reputation that is bothering you? But look at how soon we’re all forgotten. The abyss of endless time that swallows all. The emptiness of all those applauding hands.”

“Nothing can happen to me that isn’t natural.”

“What stands in the way becomes the way.”

“Why should we feel anger at the world? As if the world would notice!”

“Ask, What is so unbearable about this situation? Why can’t you endure it? You will be embarrassed to answer.”

“We all love ourselves more than others, but care about their opinions more than our own.”

#2: “Walden”, by Henry David Thoreau

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Summary: In the mid-19th century, Thoreau built his own house out in the woods near Walden Pond. He lived there in blissful solitude for two years, and recorded his thoughts in what was to become one of my absolute favorite books. Modern life was getting crazy, and Thoreau decided that it just wasn’t for him. His reflections are some of the most beautiful insights into the value of the natural world and our own possibilities for happiness within it that I have ever read.

My Favorite Notes:

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

“The true cost of anything is the amount of life you are required to exchange for it.”

“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.”

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”

“Direct your view inwards, and you’ll find a thousand regions in your mind yet undiscovered.”

“I left the woods for the same reasons that I went there. It seemed to me that there are many more lives to be lived and I could spare no more time for this one.”

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

“Only that day dawns to which we are awake.”

#3: “The Denial of Death”, by Ernest Becker

Summary: Ironically, Ernest Becker won the Pulitzer Prize for this book after his own death in the early ’70s. It’s an exploration of the subconscious fear of death and how it impacts almost every single thing that we say and do throughout our entire lives. The craving for wealth and fame, the antipathy felt towards out-groups, and much more are analyzed in this essential book. But, the overall message isn’t pessimistic. Rather, it’s the heroic struggle against death and the uniquely human capacity for the love of life itself that deserve our conscious attention.

My Favorite Notes:

“Man’s tragic destiny is that he must desperately justify himself as an object of primary value in the universe.”

“Societies are cultural hero-systems created to fulfill each individual’s need for cosmic special-ness.”

“The lie we need in order to live dooms us to a life that is never really ours.”

“It is impossible to stand up to the terror of one’s condition without anxiety.”

“The irony of man’s condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.”

“Man is protected by the secure and limited alternatives his society offers him, and if he does not look up from his path he can live out his life with a certain dull security.”

“Wars and atrocities are a rage against our impotence, a defiance of our animal condition, our pathetic creature limitations.”

“The moral courage to confront the silence of the universe is a real manifestation of cosmic heroism.”

“Who knows what form the forward momentum of life will take in the time ahead or what use it will make of our anguished searching.”

#4: “Fahrenheit 451”, by Ray Bradbury

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Summary: Guy Montag is a fireman. But in Bradbury’s dystopia, firemen burn books because all books are forbidden. Desperately unhappy with the unsatisfying choices that his society offers him, he ends up concealing books in his house, and is chased down by a mechanical hound with a hypodermic needle that is deployed to execute people who defy the state. I don’t read a lot of science fiction, but this instantly shot up to become one of my favorite books of all time. This list may not be in order, but Fahrenheit 451 is probably around #4 all-time for me. Everybody who has ever been powerfully impacted by books of any kind will relate.

My Favorite Notes:

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”

“We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”

“There are too many people alive today. Nobody knows anyone.”

“I like to watch people. I just want to figure out who they are and what they want, and where they’re going.”

“I’m afraid of children my own age. They kill each other.”

“People don’t talk about anything. They name a lot of cars or clothes or swimming pools mostly and say, how nice! But they all say the same things and nobody says anything different from anybody else.”

“How do you get so empty?” He wondered. “Who takes it out of you?”

“The more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can fit on the page, the more literary you are.”

“Books contain everything we are afraid that we might forget.”

#5: “Turning Pro”, by Steven Pressfield

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Summary: Steven Pressfield has a gift for making the artist’s journey seem courageous and noble, as it most certainly is. I’ve read most of his non-fiction books, and most of them ended up on this list right here. He strips away everything that we can possibly hide behind, that could prevent us from becoming professionals in whatever you choose to dedicate our lives to. His prose is at once grounded and inspired, and another of his gifts is to make obstacles seem more human and beatable than we ever thought possible. It’s another short read, and I’d recommend it to anybody.

My Favorite Notes:

“Artists and entrepreneurs lead a life that is closer to normal.”

“The repetition and lack of progress is what makes addiction boring.”

“The pain of being human is the condition of being suspended between two worlds and not being fully able to enter into either of them.”

“At the bottom, there is no one there but yourself.”

“Our lives are entirely up to us.”

“The professional says “One day at a time”.”

“The professional acts in anticipation of inspiration.”

“The real enemies lie inside whereas the physical opponents are just stand-ins.”

“The hero wanders, the hero suffers, and the hero returns to give his gift. You are that hero.”

#6: “An Imperfect Offering”, by James Orbinski

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Summary: This is one of the best books that I’ve ever read, and if you can make it through without being deeply wounded by the thought of what people are capable of doing to each other, then…I don’t know. James accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of his organization, Doctors Without Borders. This book is his account of his work in Somalia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, and many other places during their worst humanitarian emergencies. It’s one of the most rewarding and humbling books that you will ever pick up, and it served as one of the main driving forces of my renewed commitment to own humanitarian work that I do today.

My Favorite Notes:

“In Somalia, his first “patient” was placed on top of a pile of bodies because he was going to die of starvation anyway and there wasn’t enough time or people to tend to everyone.”

“At its best, politics is an imperfect human project.”

“In Rwanda: “The gutters alongside a hospital that we managed to keep open ran red with blood”.

“Girl who escaped the killing squads: “My mother hid me in the latrines. I saw through the hole. I watched them hit her with machetes. I watched my mother’s arm fall into my father’s blood on the floor, and I cried without noise in the toilet.”

“We must confront injustice and hold our own governments accountable for what is done in our name.”

“Only humans can choose to sacrifice life in the name of some political end, and only humans can call such sacrifices into question.”

“The term “First World” implies that we have reached some sort of utopian ideal.”

“Somalia: Some crawled along the roadside, too weak to walk. Others had given up and simply lay still.”

“We want them to care for each other, so we must care for them today.”

“I could not live with who I would be if I did not go back.”

“Cluster bombs buried in the sand look like butterflies and so children pick them up.”

“I still struggle now when I confront memories of that time, memories that are no longer unspeakable, but still unbearable.”

“Genocide is a human choice.”

“Rwandan teenager: “I used to feel ashamed, but shame is for those who have choices.”

“People in Rwanda taken to mass graves would have their hands and feet cut off so they couldn’t climb out of the graves.”

“People would pay to have their children shot instead.”

“Animals can be brutal, but only humans can be rationally cruel.”

“I wanted to kill the men who had done this to her. I wanted to pull the trigger again and again and again.”

“Why would I want to see the world in any other way than the way it is?”

“We are not certain that speaking out saves people, but we are certain that silence kills.”

“I know why the struggle is right and good, and why always we can begin again.”

“The most important thing any of us can do is to actively and pragmatically assume our responsibilities as citizens for the world we live in.”

#7: “Cosmos”, by Carl Sagan

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Summary: Carl Sagan is one of just a few authors who make me want to read everything that they have ever written. You’ll find a few of his books on this list, and this is the first of his that I had ever read. It’s meant to be a companion book to the ultra-famous TV documentary series of the same name. It’s a discussion of space exploration, philosophy, the future of humanity, and what our responsibilities are to the other citizens of the earth.

My Favorite Notes:

“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

“We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.”

“We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

“The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”

#8: “Man’s Search For Meaning”, by Viktor Frankl

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Summary: Viktor Frankl spent 3 years during World War II living in 4 different Nazi concentration camps. Formerly, he was a psychoanalyst living in Vienna, but after the war broke out, he lost his family, his practice, his home, everything that he had, except for his freedom to choose his own attitude. This is one of the most famous books ever written (period) by a death camp survivor, and reading it should become one of your top priorities if you want to understand what people have gone through, and what they are capable of.

My Favorite Notes:

“Happiness and success must be reached indirectly.”

“The last of human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“It is this spiritual freedom — which cannot be taken away — that makes life purposeful and meaningful.”

“Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.”

“Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”

“Ask what life expects from you.”

“Even in suffering, each man is unique and alone in the universe.”

“What you have experienced, no power on earth may take from you.”

“The hopelessness of our struggle does not detract from its dignity or meaning.”

“There was a camp SS commander who paid a huge amount of money from his own pocket for medicine for the prisoners.”

“No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people.”

“No one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them.”

“Losing someone you love spares them from losing you.”

“A life whose meaning comes from simply surviving isn’t worth living at all.”

“A meaningful life can and should include all of your sufferings.”

“Man does not simply exist, but also decides what he will become in the next moment.”

“The final meaning of one’s life is only determined at the moment of death and every moment leading up to it must be actualized to its full potential.”

#9: “The Alchemist”, by Paulo Coelho

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Summary: I actually have a friend who DIDN’T like this book. She hated it, but I assure you, she was almost entirely alone (You know who you are). Though this list may be in no particular order, this book is almost certainly within my top ten favorites of all time. It’s almost literally the perfect book. It’s quite short, and it follows a shepherd boy from Andalusia in his journey far from home to find a buried treasure. Sounds like some lame, TV movie, right? Ask the millions and millions of other people who have read it what they think.

My Favorite Notes:

“Those who genuinely wish us well want us to be happy and will accompany us as we give up everything for our dreams.”

“Each day, each hour is part of the good fight.”

“Believe yourself worthy of what you fought so hard to get.”

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

“Everybody seems to know how other people should lead their lives, but no idea about how to live their own.”

“There is one great truth on this planet: Whoever you are and whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe.”

“There is a language in the world that everyone understands.”

“I am always nearby when someone wants to realize their personal legend.”

“When you can’t go back, you can only think about the best way of moving forward.”

“The universe needs no explanation as it moves through endless time.”

“Every day is here to be lived or to mark our departure from the world.”

“Love is the language of the world.”

“No reason is needed for loving.”

“The fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.”

“The world we live in will become better or worse depending on whether we become better or worse. That’s where love comes in. Because when we love, we strive to become better than we are.”

#10: “Iron John”, by Robert Bly

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Summary: This book was given to me by my mother, and I was hesitant to read it for precisely that reason. What does she really know about me anyway? But this is one of those books that should be read by anyone, regardless of how they come by it. It’s about the importance of strong male role models, personal responsibility, and about the unique challenges that each individual will have to face in the world. Robert Bly is a renowned poet who uses the Grimm fairy tale “Iron John,” in which the narrator, or “Wild Man,” guides a young man through eight stages of male growth, to remind us of archetypes long forgotten-images of vigorous masculinity, both protective and emotionally centered. Women can — and should — read it too.

My Favorite Notes:

“We make the path by walking.”

“No stage is the final stop.”

“Boys must have strong male role models.”

“The industrial revolution has pulled fathers away from their sons.”

“Typically gangs have no older male influences and are trying to get it from each other.”

“We cannot discover our genius until we have been wounded.”

“Some people make no distinction between the instinct for fierceness and the instinct for aggression.”

“If a human being takes an action, the soul takes an action.”

“We look into our own eyes with an intensity not present when we look out into the world.”

“We live without knowledge of appropriate sacrifice and as a result, our sacrifices are unconscious, regressive, pointless, indiscriminate, self-destructive, and massive.”

#11: “Tao Te Ching”, by Lao Tzu

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Summary: The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao. That first line got me hooked on the text, but only because I had an idea of what the author meant. Backtracking a little bit, this book is 2,500 years old, and has been translated into English so many times, its only real competition is the bible. It’s essentially a book of Taoist wisdom, but Lao Tzu doesn’t ask you to “believe” anything. There is an entire world beneath whatever we can say about it in words, and that’s what the first line means. It’s short, only 81 verses, and you can read it in an hour. But you can spend an entire lifetime studying it.

My Favorite Notes:

“Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.”

“A man with outward courage dares to die; a man with inner courage dares to live.”

#12: “On the Shortness of Life”, by Seneca

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Summary: Seneca is seeing a resurgence in popularity in recent years, and that can only be a good thing. He’s another one of the Stoic philosophers, and if you want to be well-read, you’ll have to include some Seneca. Just saying his name makes you sound smart, but if you really, honestly and truly, take his words to heart, you will be immovable when faced with the vicissitudes of life. His philosophical writings are all about becoming absolutely immune to misfortune and to lead a happy life, amid the masses who live in misery and toil.

My Favorite Notes:

“A significant enough amount of time has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.”

“We are not given a short life but we make it short.”

“It is a small part of life that we really live.”

“People guard their possessions ferociously but waste their time like it was nothing.”

“Putting things off snatches each day as it comes and denies the present by promising the future.”

“Live immediately.”

“We can’t choose our parents but we can choose whose children we would like to be.”

“The more the property of your knowledge is shared out the greater it will become.”

“There is nothing that the passage of time does not demolish or remove.”

“Life is very short and anxious for those who ignore the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.”

“No man has been shattered by the blows of Fortune unless he was first deceived by Her favors.”

“Provided I can keep my mind always directed upwards, what does it matter what ground I stand on?”

“Many people could have achieved wisdom if they had not imagined that they had already achieved it.”

“What look like towering heights are precipices.”

“He who fears death will never do anything worthy of a living man.”

#13: “Wherever You Go, There You Are”, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

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Summary: Mindfulness is making it big nowadays! This is a spectacular development for the human race, and Jon Kabat-Zinn is one of the leaders in this new wave of mindfulness. What’s more, he doesn’t make it into this weird, esoteric, New-Age-y thing that isolates people like you and me that could otherwise have become interested. His point is that it is available to everyone, and this book is an excellent introduction to some of the bigger ideas of the movement. I was already familiar with mindfulness when I read this book, but I found my knowledge base deepening page by page.

My Favorite Notes:

“Our unexamined assumptions are not always true.”

“Mindfulness is the direct opposite of taking life for granted.”

“As soon as you stop, here you are.”

“All your responsibilities would somehow get worked out in the event of your death.”

“Let go of trying to get anywhere at all.”

“Acknowledge that what is happening is happening.”

“Look at other people and ask if you’re really seeing them or just your thoughts about them.”

“Meditation is about knowing that the waves will always crash and that we can know something about this.”

“When you are looking at the stars you are looking millions of years back in time.”

“Nothing else has to happen for this moment to be complete.”

“It’s possible to hurry patiently, to move fast because you have chosen to.”

“Give more than you think you can, trusting that you are richer than you think.”

“At its core, there is no giver, no gift, and no recipient; just the universe rearranging itself.”

“Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling.”

“What lies behind us and what lies in front of us are small matters compared to dwells within us.”

“Whatever has come to shake us will inevitably and of itself change.”

“You can only get there if you are fully here.”

“Your journey is a human life lived.”

“You are here now, and when you get there, you’ll be there.”

“There is no need to live “ahead” of yourself.”

“There is no running away from anything.”

“A fish doesn’t know what water is because he is so immersed in it.”

“Nothing that describes you is fundamental to who you are.”

“Who are you that is asking who you are?”

#14: “The Book”, by Alan Watts

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Summary: I watch short YouTube clips of Alan Watts and his lectures almost every single day. He’s one of the foremost popularizers of eastern philosophy in the west, and quite simply, he’s one of the smartest people I know of. He teaches that the universe is one substance, and that what we do is something that the universe is “doing”, in the same way that a wave is something that the entire ocean is doing. There’s nothing to worry about, strive for, struggle against, or fight over. Because as Watts says, the whole point of life is to be aware of it while it’s happening. Just as the point of music isn’t just to get to the end of the song, or the point of dancing isn’t just to get to a particular spot on the floor, life is meant to be lived immediately. For there is no other time.

My Favorite Notes:

“We don’t come into the world, we come out of it.”

“As the ocean “waves”, the universe “peoples”.”

“Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.”

“Religions are divisive because they separate the “saved” from the “damned” instead of celebrating our common humanity.”

“God has no shape because there isn’t any outside to him.”

“Nothing exists except God.”

“What moves, the galaxies or the space?”

“In trying to beat “evil”, we are trying to get rid of the valleys and keep the mountains.”

“Death will always intimidate us unless we give ourselves up to its inevitability and stop trying to postpone it indefinitely or believe in some afterlife.”

“You were kicked off a precipice when you were born, and it’s no help to cling to the rocks falling with you.”

“Discovering surprises and marvels is the only good reason for not staying at home.”

“You can’t grasp the idea of unity with your mind because your mind is part of everything that exists.”

“We cannot exist without the cooperation of the entire universe and all things.”

“The world outside your skin is just as much you as the world inside.”

“The universe is meaningless in the sense that it doesn’t point to anything beyond itself.”

“The universe cannot be understood, because understanding lies within the universe.”

“One cannot stand outside the universe and describe it.”

“Nothing is left to you at this moment than to have a good laugh.”

#15: “The Wisdom of Insecurity”, by Alan Watts

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Summary: More Alan Watts!?!? Damn right!!! The man is just brilliant, and I can’t push this book into enough people’s hands. The title refers not to personal insecurity but the inevitability of change, and the futility of looking for security in anything within the world itself. Just like with “The Book”, I took pages and pages of notes, and reviewing them always makes something else connect for me.

My Favorite Notes:

“If happiness depends on something in the future, we are chasing something that always eludes our grasp, until the future, and ourselves, vanish into the abyss of death.”

“Paradoxically, we find life meaningful only after we discover that it is without purpose, and we know the mystery of the universe only when we are convinced that we know nothing about it at all.”

“Stop preparing to live and start living.”

“Wars of any kind must be utterly futile because they are between two parts of the same thing.”

“Where do you begin and end in space?”

“Neither science nor religion accurately reflects reality and when both sides symbolize reality differently, they are bound to be contradictory.”

“To understand a problem is also to know how to solve it, and if you don’t know how to solve it, then you don’t understand the problem.”

“There is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity.”

“If I want to be secure, that is, protected from the flux of life, then I want to be separate from life. Yet it is this very separation that makes me feel insecure.”

“I can only think seriously of trying to live up to an ideal, to improve myself, if I am split in two pieces.”

“There is no safety, seeking it is painful, and when we imagine that we have found it, we don’t like it.”

“There is no “I” which can be protected or needs protecting.”

“Doctors extend life so that people can be anxious about how to live even longer.”

“Everything exists for this moment.”

“You are chained to fear only so long as you are trying to get away from it.”

“People only want indefinite time, not infinite time.”

“The only interesting people are interested people.”

“The highest to which man can attain is wonder.”

#16: “The Prophet”, by Kahlil Gibran

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Summary: Often imitated, never duplicated, Kahlil Gibran has had his book translated into 23 languages and has sold more than 9 million copies. He’s one of those writers who, although long dead, you wish that he were a really good friend of yours and you could call him up and talk to him whenever you want. The Prophet has terrific things to say about love, marriage, children, giving, work, joy and sorrow, crime and punishment, laws, freedom, reason and passion, pain, self-knowledge, teaching, friendship, talking, time, good and evil, beauty, religion, and death.

My Favorite Notes:

“How often have you sailed in my dreams. And now you come in my awakening, which is my deeper dream.”

“And ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”

“Of what can I speak save of that which is even now moving within your souls?”

“Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights, is worthy of all else from you.”

“See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.”

“Work is love made visible.”

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”

“Much of your pain is self-chosen.”

“Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.”

“You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts.”

“For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.”

“Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”

#17: “Paradise Lost”, by John Milton

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Summary: Even non-believers like me can love this book. It’s really more of an epic poem about the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and the efforts of the devil to rise out of his deep imprisonment and drag the couple down with him. One of the things that I find incredible about Paradise Lost is that Milton wrote it, or rather dictated it, after he became completely blind. It’s one of the masterpieces of English literature, known to smart people everywhere, and the guy was totally blind when he composed it. Strangely, one of my favorite books of all time.

My Favorite Notes:

“The mind is its own place, and in it Self can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.”

“That must be our cure, to be no more; sad cure; for who would loose, though full of pain, this intellectual being, those thoughts that wander through eternity, to perish rather, swallowed up and lost in the wide womb of uncreated night, devoid of sense and motion?”

“O Shame to men! Devil with devil damned firm concord holds, men onely disagree of creatures rational, though under hope of heavenly grace: and God proclaiming peace, yet live in hatred, enmitie, and strife among themselves, and levie cruel wars, wasting the earth, each other to destroy: As if (which might induce us to accord) Man had not hellish foes anow besides, that day and night for his destruction wait.”

“He had of me all he could have; I made him just and right, sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.”

“Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”

“Awake, arise or be forever fall’n.”

“Long is the way and hard, that out of hell leads up to light.”

“Love thou saist leads up to heaven, is both the way and guide.”

“But what will not Ambition and Revenge descend to?”

“Justice divine mends not her slowest pace for prayers or cries.”

“Why is life given to be thus wrested from us?”

“Nor love thy life, nor hate; but what thou livest live well, how long or short permit to heaven.”

“Then wilt thou not be loath to leave this paradise, but shalt possess a paradise within thee.”

#18: “Billions and Billions”, by Carl Sagan

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Summary: People used to laugh at the way Carl Sagan used to pronounce “billions and billions” when he was describing the immensity of the universe. Not the kind of person to let that stuff get to him (after all, he’s Carl freakin’ Sagan and he knew it), he used the phrase as the title of one of his books. And what a book it is! It was one of the first I had ever read of his, and I was hooked. Filled with fascinating facts and sweeping philosophies, it will shatter and re-arrange your worldview over and over again, and then probably once more for good measure.

My Favorite Notes:

“I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.”

“To live in the hearts we leave behind is to live forever.”

“If we go far enough back, any two people on Earth have a common ancestor.”

“One of the central issues in the world population crisis is poverty.”

“Thomas Jefferson taught that a democracy was impractical unless the people were educated.”

#19: “The Four Hour Workweek”, by Tim Ferriss

Summary: Tim Ferriss was one of the first people who taught me that my reality didn’t have to remain the same as it always had been. That there were suckers everywhere, and that you didn’t have to be one of them. You could do things differently. You could think out a problem, find a novel way of doing it better or faster or cheaper, and then get on with your life. Your real life. This is the book that put him on the proverbial map, and there are a multitude of very good reasons for that. Many thanks.

My Favorite Notes:

“There is hardly any competition for the top.”

“Success can be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations that you are willing to have.”

“The most important actions are never comfortable.”

“Be productive instead of busy.”

“Ask, If this is the only thing that I accomplish today, will I be happy?”

“There are seldom any real emergencies.”

“Experience the world at a speed that lets it change us.”

“Just pursue something fun and interesting and leave the why for later.”

“Let a few small bad things happen in order to focus on making the important big things happen.”

#20: “Siddhartha”, by Herman Hesse

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Summary: I can’t quite remember why I started reading this one, as I don’t think I had ever heard of Herman Hesse. Maybe it was the Buddha on the cover? Who knows. But however I came to start reading it, it was literally transformative. It clarified so many concepts for me that before then had just been rattling around aimlessly in my head. It’s like meditation in book form, and it follows a young man as he leaves his family, starts a second family, leaves that one, and then comes to realize some of the greatest truths of all of our existences.

My Favorite Notes:

“There is nothing you know less about than yourself.”

“The natural world has always existed, regardless of whether you are paying attention.”

“Listen attentively to your inner voice and be fiercely and unapologetically yourself.”

“Nothing else is necessary except to listen to your self.”

“Let everyone and at all times follow their own path.”

“Wisdom cannot be passed on.”

“The opposite of every truth is just as true.”

“The gap between good and evil is illusory and truth that can be put into words must necessarily be one-sided.”

“The world is not imperfect or on a slow path towards perfection; it is perfect in every moment.”

“Everything that exists is good.”

“The world, my friend Govinda, is not imperfect, or on a slow path towards perfection: no it is perfect in every moment, all sin already carries the divine forgiveness in itself, all small children already have the old person in themselves, all infants already have death, all dying people the eternal life. It is not possible for any person to see how far another one has already progressed on his path; in the robber and dice-gambler, the Buddha is waiting; in the Brahman, the robber is waiting. In deep meditation, there is the possibility to put time out of existence, to see all life which was, is, and will be as if it was simultaneous and there everything is good, everything is perfect, everything is Brahman. Therefore, I see whatever exists as good, death is to me like life, sin like holiness, wisdom like foolishness, everything has to be as it is, everything only requires my consent, only my willingness, my loving agreement, to be good for me, to do nothing but work for my benefit, to be unable to ever harm me. I have experienced on my body and on my soul that I needed sin very much, I needed lust, the desire for possessions, vanity, and needed the most shameful despair, in order to learn how to give up all resistance, in order to learn how to love the world, in order to stop comparing it to some world I wished, I imagined, some kind of perfection I had made up, but to leave it as it is and to love it and to enjoy being a part of it. These, oh Govinda, are some of the thoughts which have come into my mind.”

#21: “The Hero With a Thousand Faces”, by Joseph Campbell

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Summary: Joseph Campbell is another author who makes me want to read everything that he has ever written. Like “Iron John”, it is about initiatory practices, global myths, and the development of the mature personality. Campbell studies the myths that have arisen in all corners of the world, and examines their similarities and common themes and motifs. But it’s more than that. So much more. It’s a study of what humanity is moving towards, what it is afraid of, what it is trying to do and become. Diversity will mean something entirely different to you if you are able to fully digest what the book elucidates.

My Favorite Notes:

“Truth is one, though the sages speak of it by many names.”

“We fear and crave self discovery.”

“Dream is the personalized myth; myth the depersonalized dream.”

“The hardness of myth is balanced by an assurance that all that we see is but a reflex of a power that endures, untouched by the pain. Thus the tales are both pitiless and terrorless — suffused with the joy of a transcendent anonymity regarding itself in all of the self-centered, battling egos that are born and die in time.”

“The psyche has many secrets in reserve, and these are not disclosed unless required.”

“Life is a slow initiation.”

“The distinction between eternity and time is only apparent.”

“The moment of death is our birth to eternity.”

“In so far as one is alive, life will call.”

“There’s nothing that perishes in the whole universe.”

“Through myths, symbolic expression is given to the unconscious desires, fears, and tensions that underlie the conscious patterns of human behavior.”

“Revealed in myth, the entire spectacle of the human psyche is before us.”

“The entire spectacle is before us. We have only to read it, study its constant patterns, analyze its variations, and therewith come to an understanding of the deep forces that have shaped man’s destiny and must continue to determine both our private and our public lives.”

“All the visible structures of the world are the effects of a ubiquitous power out of which they rise, which supports and fills them during the period of their manifestation. and back into which they must ultimately dissolve.”

“The myths and gods are mere symbols to move and awaken the mind, and to call it past themselves.”

“The cosmogonic cycle is to be understood as the passage of universal consciousness from the deep sleep zone of the unmanifest, through dream, to the full day of waking; then back again through dream to the timeless dark. As in the actual experience of every living being, so in the grandiose figure of the living cosmos: in the abyss of sleep the energies are refreshed, in the work of the day they are exhausted; the life of the universe runs down and must be renewed.”

“No one can live and not die. To imagine oneself as possessing anything is to be mistaken; nobody is father, mother, or son.”

“The aim is not to see, but to realize that one is, that essence; then one is free to wander as that essence in the world. Furthermore: the world too is of that essence. The essence of oneself and the essence of the world: these two are one. Hence separateness, withdrawal, is no longer necessary. Wherever the hero may wander, whatever he may do, he is ever in the presence of his own essence — for he has the perfected eye to see. There is no separateness. Thus, just as the way of social participation may lead in the end to a realization of the All in the individual, so that of exile brings the hero to the Self in all.”

“The community today is the planet, not the bounded nation; hence the patterns of projected aggression which formerly served to co-ordinate the in-group now can only break it into factions.”

“The way to become human is to learn to recognize the lineaments of God in all of the wonderful modulations in the face of man.”

“Man himself is now the crucial mystery.”

“The ideals and temporal institutions of no tribe, race, continent, social class, or century can be the measure of the inexhaustible and multifariously wonderful divine existence that is the life in all of us.”

“The modern hero, the modern individual who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding. “Live”, Nietzsche says, “as though the day were here.” It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal — carries the cross of the redeemer — not in the bright moments of his tribe’s great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair. “

#22: “Civil Disobedience”, by Henry David Thoreau

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Summary: Henry David Thoreau! His second appearance on this list is for his essay on civil disobedience and what it means to exercise one’s own conscience in the midst of sheep. He was sent to prison for tax evasion; taxes he failed to pay, in protest for what the American government was doing to the native Americans, among other things. Slavery was also anathema to him, as it is to me as well. Along with Thoreau, “I recognize no government which is the slave’s government also”. This is a short and incredibly important read.

My Favorite Notes:

“Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward attaining it.”

“We should be men first, and subjects afterward.”

“The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.”

“I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave’s government also.”

“It is not so important that many be as good as you, but that there be some absolute goodness somewhere.”

“If it’s required that you be the agent of injustice towards another, then I say, break the law.”

“Prison is the only place in a slave state where a free man can abide with honor.”

#23: “Where Children Sleep”, by James Mollison

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Summary: If I read hundreds of books every single year, at least some of them have got to be picture books, right? You can read this book in an hour, but it will stay with you for a lifetime. It’s basically a photojournalism essay in which the author presents pictures of where children around the world lay their heads at night. There is the New York lawyer’s son who sleeps in a race-car bed, and there is the eastern European immigrant living in Italy who sleeps with his entire family on a mattress in the middle of a field. But…the idea isn’t to point out that privilege is somehow “wrong”. As I understand it, it is to make known that children everywhere are growing up in starkly different circumstances, and that we can offer our help where we can. That our pasts don’t have to equal our futures.

My Favorite Notes:

“He walks to school with his parents. He wants to be a fireman when he grows up.”

“He sleeps on a mattress in a field with his family.”

“Indira says she doesn’t mind working in the quarry, but that she’d rather be playing. Her favorite food is noodles.”

“His home sits on a huge rubbish dumb. Five thousand other people live and work and pay rent there.”

“She was born in the refugee camp and has witnessed violence her entire life. Her brother killed himself and 21 Israelis in a suicide bombing attack.”

“She wants to be a policewoman so that she can protect people.”

“This book is dedicated to our parents, who gave us wonderful childhoods.”

#24: “Tuesdays With Morrie”, by Mitch Albom

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Summary: In my own university career, I was very fortunate to become relatively close with one of my Russian professors, who ended up becoming one of my role models. Partly of course for the thousands and thousands of books at his apartment, all of which he has read at some point or other. So this book appealed to me in that Mitch Albom comes to visit his dying professor, Morrie Schwartz, so that the latter can pass on some of his greatest lessons, and they can both enjoy the remaining time in each other’s company. Every Tuesday, they meet for a couple of hours to talk about life, and each Tuesday brings Morrie closer to death from ALS.

My Favorite Notes:

“Morrie gave all his students “A’s” in the sixties so they couldn’t be drafted to fight in Vietnam.”

“Don’t trade your dream for a bigger paycheck.”

“A suit and tie can be prison clothes.”

“Love always wins.”

“Things go on without you.”

“Learn how to give out love and let it come in.”

“Love is the only rational act.”

“Never take a job that exploits someone else.”

“Everybody knows that they are going to die but no one believes it.”

“Be prepared for death at any time.”

“Are you being the person you want to be?”

“Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

“I’m just really into breezes”

“Love each other or perish.”

“Don’t ask people to stop their lives for you.”

“If you’ve found meaning in your life, you don’t want to go back. You want to go forward.”

“Trying to show off for people “above” you or “below” you is pointless because they will either look down on you or envy you anyway.”

“Think of my voice and I’ll be there.”

“People are only mean when they’re threatened.”

“Make peace with living.”

“Death ends a life, but not a relationship.”

“You can find perfection in even the most average day.”

“You’re not a wave. You’re part of the ocean.”

#25: “Shakespeare Saved My Life”, by Laura Bates

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Summary: This was one of those rare finds that you just happen to come across, and you end up being so incredibly grateful that they did. I was reading ebooks on my phone, and happened to look through the “Recommended For You” section on the particular app I was using. It’s the story of Laura Bates, an educator who started her own Shakespeare course in the Indian prison system. Larry Newton, one of the most hardened inmates in solitary in the entire state, undergoes a transformation. I really spent a lot of time thinking about whether people can change, should they, whether the transformations are always genuine, as well as the general effectiveness or lack thereof of the prison system.

My Favorite Notes:

“It just goes by so fast. Everyone overlooks enjoying it. They just put themselves into so many prisons.”

“Education is often one thing that no one can take away from a prisoner.”

“Why is a prisoner’s motivation to earn a degree and see his family sooner viewed more negatively than a campus student’s motivation to earn a degree and make more money?”

“Awareness of multiplicity of interpretation is the key to reading Shakespeare.”

“Prison guards would often swear in front of female visitors but prisoners rarely did so. And when they did, they usually apologized.”

“Hey, you know what’s really cool? Here’s old boy Richard in this supermax, and he’s building a world inside of there with his thoughts. He’s trying to make his life mean something. And then here I am, here in that same little prison, trying to make my life mean something.”

“At the trial, when his attorneys were trying to mitigate his guilt by describing his mother’s neglect, Larry sat with his fingers in his ears.”

“The first thing Larry stole was money out of his mother’s purse, which he used to buy a teddy bear.”

“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in its petty pace until the last syllable of recorded time.”

“You can’t allow your fears to narrow your life.”

“Prison is being entrapped by those self-destructive ways of thinking.”

“There is no sure foundation set in blood, no certain life achieved by others’ death.”

“Sgt. Harper, the guard that Larry once stabbed, became a supporter of Larry and Dr. Bates and helped them move past some administrative difficulties.”

“How many times have you thought about what you could have or should have done? You know what separates you from Hamlet? Four hundred years. That’s it.”

“We are all heroes in our own tragedies.”

“It could be that when people fall the farthest, they bounce back the highest.”

“We are all the same people, just in different places.”

#26: “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”, by Chris Hadfield

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Summary: Chris Hadfield came to speak at my university one day…and I only heard about the day after! You can imagine my heartbreak and disappointment. If not, read his book, and THEN you’ll be able to imagine my heartbreak and disappointment. The guy is one of the most down-to-earth (haha) guys I’ve ever come across, and he’s one of the few people who actually knows a little bit about what he’s talking about. Preparedness is his deal, and he says that if you have something that you’re going for, don’t wait. Do everything that you can, today, to get ready. Waiting is just procrastination, especially when you realize that time spent waiting can be time spent becoming the person you need to be in order to achieve what you’re setting out to achieve.

My Favorite Notes:

“You have a lot of choices and every decision matters.”

“Ask what an astronaut would do (if that’s your dream) if he were your age and do that.”

“What you do each day determines the kind of person that you will become.”

“Do the things that move you in the direction of your dreams, but make sure those things interest you so that whatever happens, you’re happy.”

“Be as ready as possible, just in case.”

“Competency is one of the most important qualities to have.”

“Training should be viewed as an end in itself.”

“All you can control is your attitude.”

“If you have the time, use it to get ready.”

“Fear comes from being unprepared and without control over what will happen.”

“His kids used to make fun of him for having more homework than they did.”

“Have a plan for dealing with problems as they arise.”

“Visualize defeat and figure out how to prevent it.”

“Helping someone else look good doesn’t make you look worse.”

“Saying thank you isn’t enough when you ask someone to sacrifice for your dreams.”

“As a leader, set up your team for success, then stand back and let them shine.”

“I would not be in the ISS again, but that’s ok; Earth is home to everyone I love”

#27: “Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.”, by Martin Luther King Jr.

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Summary: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Martin Luther King Jr. is a model everyone can follow, but sadly, most don’t. When justice appears to many as “getting back at people”, progress stalls. Interestingly, his autobiography wasn’t written by him, but pieced together from many of his own writings. They were numerous, profound, and they contain great lessons for us all. You don’t need me to tell you what an impressive man he was. Read through his autobiography and let more of him rub off on you.

My Favorite Notes:

“Noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.”

“It is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflictor of it.”

“Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.”

“No one gives up their privileges without strong resistance.”

“We must not go back on the buses and push people around unnecessarily, boasting of our rights. We must simply sit where there is a vacant seat.”

“We seek an integration based on mutual respect.”

“The destiny of our country is tied up with the destiny of every other nation.”

“The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people.”

“No one is an outsider when he goes to any community to aid the cause of freedom and justice.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.”

“The president said nothing could be done. But we started a movement.”

“Let us march on poverty until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat eat.”

“Freedom is never voluntarily granted by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed.”

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, while love without power is sentimental and anemic.”

“A genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus but a molder of consensus.”

“Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end. This is what I have found in nonviolence.”

“The choice now is between nonviolence and nonexistence.”

#28: “The Brothers Karamazov”, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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Summary: The Brothers Karamazov is a passionate philosophical novel set in 19th century Russia, that enters deeply into the ethical debates of God, free will, and morality. It is a spiritual drama of moral struggles concerning faith, doubt, and reason, set against a modernizing Russia. Alright, so I stole that from Goodreads, but this is perhaps one of my favorite books of all time. I know that you should never trust anyone who says “Trust me”, but, you know, trust me. You’ll soon see why it is an enduring classic with relevant lessons for all of us.

My Favorite Notes:

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”

“What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.”

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”

“You will burn and you will burn out; you will be healed and come back again.”

“Do not weep, life is paradise, and we are all in paradise, but we refuse to see it. And if we did want to see it, tomorrow there would be paradise the world over.”

#29: “Way of the Peaceful Warrior”, by Dan Millman

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Summary: This is the story of Dan Millman, who encounters a wise teacher working at a gas station (it probably pays more than teachers get paid nowadays, unfortunately), and who ultimately transforms his life. It’s an international bestseller that conveys piercing truths and humorous wisdom, speaking directly to the universal quest for happiness. It might not have been the first choice of book that I would have picked up, had it not been for a wise friend who knew more than I did.

My Favorite Notes:

“How do you know you haven’t been asleep your whole life?”

“Everyone is from outer space, depending on your viewpoint.”

“The lessons of experience are sometimes hidden.”

“Before you can learn, you have to empty yourself of preconceptions.”

“Everything you’ll ever need to know is inside of you.”

“The secrets of the universe are imprinted on the cells of your body.”

“Realization is simultaneous comprehension of head, heart, and instinct.”

“You are ignorant of where the universe is, and therefore where you are.”

“Life requires intense feeling and constant energy.”

“You have even less time than you might imagine.”

“The best performers have the quietest minds.”

“Dream about the rest of your life and realize that it can be exceptionally lonely and boring unless you consciously make choices to make it more interesting and alive.”

“Stress happens when the mind resists what is.”

“Stop taking your thoughts so seriously.”

“There is no praise and no blame on the path that you have chosen.”

“No need to worry — death is perfectly safe.”

“Death isn’t sad. What’s sad is that most people never really live at all.”

“There are no ordinary moments.”

“Think less and feel more.”

“Full attention to every moment is my pleasure.”

“The only thing you know absolutely is that you’re here, wherever here may be.”

“The time is now and the place is here.”

“It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you do it well.”

“Laughter is good enough.”

“You DO have a terminal illness: it’s called “Life”.”

“Be happy now, for no reason, or you never will be at all.”

“There is no need to search; achievement leads to nowhere. It makes no difference at all, so just be happy now! Love is the only reality of the world, because it is all One, you see. And the only laws are paradox, humor, and change. There is no problem, never was, and never will be. Release your struggle, let go of your mind, throw away your concerns, and relax into the world. No need to resist life; just do your best. Open your eyes and see that you are far more than you imagine. You are the world, you are the universe; you are yourself and everyone else, too! Wake up, regain your humor. Don’t worry, you are already free!”

#30: “Moonwalking With Einstein”, by Joshua Foer

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Summary: Moonwalking With Einstein made me do something strange. It really jolted me awake, and I was riveted to the end. Which is weird, because it’s about memory, how to improve it, and about a journalist who begins training for the American Memory Championships. Yea, you know, the ones you’ve seen advertised all over TV…Ok, maybe not so much. But what made such an impact on me was one single paragraph where Foer talks about the fact that at the end of our lives, our memories are all that we will ever have. We need to be constantly making memories with the people we care about, and challenging ourselves to do the most amazing and unlikely things. Also, strangely enough, I got to the part where he was in the finals at the memory championships, and, while reading a book about memory mind you, I actually let go a fist pump into the air. It was exciting! Does that make me a nerd?

My Favorite Notes:

“Store memories in linear chains and link them.”

“Associate the sound of the name of a person whose name you’re trying to remember with something you can visualize.”

“We remember things in context.”

“Chunking is the grouping of information together for easier recall.”

“Our lives are structured by our memories of events.”

“Creating as many memories as possible is important to experiencing a long and rich life.”

“Older memories appear to our minds more like some third person holding a camera.”

“Newer memories appear in the first person.”

“The mind remembers more clearly very vivid and unusual images.”

“Song is the ultimate structuring device for language.”

“Do the action at the same time as learning the word in order to make it stick.”

“We tend to remember what we pay attention to.”

“Really enjoy the images and you will remember them.”

“I fell asleep wearing my memory championship medal; I had forgotten to take it off.”

#31: “The War of Art”, by Steven Pressfield”

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Summary: In Pressfield parlance, The Resistance is anything and everything that is holding you back from releasing your art. And we are all artists. The lawyer drafting a commercial agreement is just as much of an artist as the author writing a book, the sculptor creating a statue, or a gardener curating a garden. And The Resistance might take many different forms as it appears to all of these people. These short, powerful book is an unimaginably empowering resource that you can use to beat The Resistance. The unfortunate thing is, you can never really win for good, and The Resistance keeps coming back for more. So, you always have to be ready to create art.

My Favorite Notes:

“Resistance can’t be reasoned with.”

“Resistance will say anything and do anything to prevent you from doing your work.”

“Resistance is an objective force of nature and its efforts are not personal.”

“Resistance is fueled by our fear and so can be conquered.”

“Resistance is strongest close to the end.”

“There will never be a moment when we are unable to change our destiny.”

“Resistance can and has been beaten.”

“Respect Resistance because it can beat you on any given day.”

“The artist pursuing his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not.”

“Taking a few blows is the price of standing in the arena and not on the sidelines.”

“Resistance is like a telemarketer: Once you so much as say hello, you’re finished.”

“Whatever you can do, or believe you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.”

“We most fear that we will succeed.”

“If we were born to throw off the order of injustice and ignorance of the world, then it’s our job to realize it, and get down to business.”

“The artist must do his work for its own sake.”

“If I were the last person on earth, would I still do what I’m planning to do?”

“Contempt for failure is our cardinal virtue.”

“Give us what you’ve got.”

#32: “Pale Blue Dot”, by Carl Sagan

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Summary: A vision for the human future in space. The subtitle that captured my attention in the beginning. I’m not going to get too deep into an explanation of what the book is about or why you should read it. Instead, read the well-known passage from the beginning of the book that is one of my absolute favorite quotes of all time.

My Favorite Notes:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

“Future galaxies and planets will never even know that the earth once existed.”

“It is convenient and satisfying that the creator of the universe should look just like us.”

“The history of the universe was 99.998% over when humans came to be.”

“A future religion will probably emerge that has great reverence for the universe and awe for it.”

“Except for a thin film of life on earth, occasional spacecraft, and odd radio signals, the universe knows nothing of us.”

“Each second, a thousand suns are born.”

“There are about 300,000 near-earth asteroids that could eventually strike the earth that are larger than 100 meters.”

“Every million years or so, there are asteroids and worlds that collide with the earth and cause explosions equaling a million megatons of TNT.”

“The chance of a large asteroid collision happening within the lifetime of a newborn baby is 1 in 2,000. The chances of a commercial plane going down is 1 in 2,000,000.”

“Any differences between human beings on earth would be trivial compared to differences between us and any alien civilization we would encounter.”

“Science demands a tolerance for ambiguity.”

“The projected longevity of the human species is between 12 years and 8 million years.”

“Inhabiting other worlds does not mean abandoning this one.”

#33: “Die Empty”, by Todd Henry

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Summary: The whole “no dream left behind” philosophy of Todd Henry is one that is urgently needed by all members of today’s society. Statistically, most will stand back and let others do all the achieving. They will let others go after the lives that they have imagined and they will die full of unfulfilled potential. More than a pep talk, this entire book is an urgent plea to leave nothing left and pursue everything that you’ve ever wanted with reckless abandon. Have a plan, stick to it, and endure the discomfort…but always take big swings at something really important to you.

My Favorite Notes:

“How we choose to spend our days is significant.”

“Your days are finite. One day they will run out.”

“An opportunity lost today is an opportunity lost forever.”

“The price of regret is incalculable.”

“Can I lay my head down tonight satisfied with the work that I have done today?”

“Mediocrity develops slowly over time.”

“You can’t solve an internal problem by changing your external circumstances.”

“Progress is driven by doing the small things that no one else sees.”

“Take a real swing at something and risk failure.”

“Imagine that someone is following you around throughout your day and taking notes on your behavior, and that is what people will read about you.”

“We will not always have tomorrow to do today’s work.”

“It is our actions that define us, not our intentions.”

“You can’t chase greatness and comfort at the same time.”

“You cannot sustain yourself for long on the approval of others.”

“Resist the urge to suppress tense conversations, which might lead to breakthrough ideas.”

“We are being questioned by life, daily and hourly.”

#34: “The Undefeated Mind”, by Alex Lickerman

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Summary: I don’t care who you are; this is the book for you. We all face the challenges that he talks about, and the solution is similar for each of us. Lickerman’s underlying premise is that our ability to control what happens to us in life may be limited, but our ability to surmount the suffering life brings us is not. At its core, The Undefeated Mind urges us to stop hoping for easy lives and focus instead on cultivating the inner strength we need to enjoy the difficult lives we all have.

My Favorite Notes:

“The idea is not to try and make an easy life for ourselves but instead to develop the inner strength to enjoy the difficult lives that we all have.”

“We can only really be said to understand a principle when we actually live by it.”

“Money and possessions make us more vulnerable to suffering because they represent additional attachments to lose.”

“Decade after decade, approach the obstacles in front of you and hammer at them until either they fall or you do.”

“You don’t deserve happiness any more than anyone else but you also don’t deserve it any less.”

“Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment that it acquires meaning.”

“Only in facing a strong enemy are we able to become strong ourselves.”

“Accepting pain enables you to stop making futile efforts to avoid it.”

“We have influence over things but not complete control.”

“We don’t even remember most of what happens to us.”

“The way we expect other people to behave alters our behavior in such a way that causes them to fulfill our expectations.”

“As long as our minds can think, our hearts can find their way to victory.”

“But as long as we refuse to give in to despair and resolve to continue taking concrete action, some kind of victory is always possible. So when everything seems hopeless and you want to give up, no matter how much others may doubt you or you may doubt yourself, hold that knowledge fast to your heart and fix your mind unwaveringly on this most imperative of calls to action: never be defeated.”

#35: “The Art of Being”, by Erich Fromm

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Summary: Piercing insights into the human condition, and the insanity that surrounds us. That’s what you’ll get from the psychology of Erich Fromm. He’s one of my favorite authors for a reason. He’s able to see through the whole sham of things, and recognize that most of us are living a lie. Human feeling has gone out of our daily interactions, and possessiveness reigns. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and Fromm can tell you why.

My Favorite Notes:

“The overcoming of greed, illusions, hate, and the attainment of love and compassion are the conditions for attaining optimal being.”

“Our reason functions only to the extent to which it is not flooded by greed.”

“One can hardly overestimate people’s need to talk about themselves and be listened to.”

“Man is afraid to have close contact with another and equally afraid of being lonely, so trivial conversation is the solution for man.”

“Most people believe that they are actually speaking the truth.”

“It seems that we are afraid to know anyone fully, including ourselves.”

“If a personal has not entirely lost the ability to feel, or has not become an automaton, he can scarcely avoid having to make difficult decisions.”

“Those who have exploited man have offered themselves, and been readily accepted, as father figures.”

“The powerlessness of man leads individuals to seek such father figures.”

“Without effort, and willingness to experience pain and anxiety, nobody grows.”

“A person who has not been completely alienated, who has remained sensitive and able to feel, who has not lost the sense of dignity, who is not yet “for sale”, who can still suffer over the suffering of others, who has not acquired fully the having mode of existence — briefly, a person who has remained a person and not become a thing — cannot help feeling lonely, powerless, isolated in present-day society. He cannot help doubting himself and his own convictions, if not his sanity. He cannot help suffering, even though he can experience moments of joy and clarity that are absent in the life of his “normal” contemporaries. Not rarely will he suffer from a neurosis that results from the situation of a sane man living in an insane society, rather than that of the more conventional neurosis of a sick man trying to adapt himself to a sick society. In the process of going further in his analysis, i.e., of growing to greater independence and productivity, his neurotic symptoms will cure themselves. In the last analysis, all forms of neuroses are indications of the failure to solve the problem of living adequately.”

“There is no limit to the knowledge of oneself.”

“Who will you be if you continue living as you are now?”

“The story of our lives is often found in the discrepancy between what our conscious goals are, and our unconscious strivings, which determine our life.”

“Unless I am able to analyze the unconscious aspects of the society in which I live, I cannot know who I am, because I cannot know which part of me is not me.”

“Modern man is basically very helpless in relation to his world.”

#36: “The Sane Society”, by Erich Fromm

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Summary: Erich Fromm appears so many times on this list for a very good reason. He saw through the sham that we all agreed to live with, and penetrated through to the real aim of life. The real opportunities for connection and meaning that are available to us all. Almost our whole society is asleep, and the endless pursuit of wealth and fame have deadened most people inside. Fromm’s whole aim is to jolt people into wakefulness and see that there is more to life than drudgery, conflict, and egotism.

My Favorite Notes:

“We commonly presume that we as a society are sane.”

“The countries that have made the most progress in material comfort and prosperity have the highest levels of mental unbalance.”

“The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make those vices into virtues.”

“Today we come across a person who acts and feels like an automaton; who never experiences anything which is really his; who experiences himself entirely as the person he thinks he is supposed to be; whose artificial smile has replaced genuine laughter; whose meaningless chatter has replaced communicative speech; whose dulled despair has taken the place of genuine pain.”

“If TV and movies and other entertainment were removed for only a short time, many people would be thrown into neurosis.”

“If people live under conditions which are contrary to their nature and to the basic requirements of human growth and sanity, he cannot help reacting; he must either deteriorate and perish, or bring about conditions which are more in accordance with his needs.”

“A sane society is that which corresponds to the needs of man.”

“Only when man succeeds in developing his reason and love further than he has done so far, only when he can build a world based on human solidarity and justice, only when he can feel rooted in the experience of universal brotherliness, will he have found a new, human form of rootedness, will he have transformed his world into a truly human home.”

“People are willing to risk their lives, to give up their love, to surrender their freedom, to sacrifice their own thoughts, for the sake of being one of the herd, of conforming, and thus acquiring a sense of identity, even though it is an illusory one.”

“There is no real connection now between pushing a button and people being killed.”

“People pray to God to give them back some of the powers that they have projected onto him.”

“What clearer example could there be of the separation between private and public existence than the fact that the same man who would not think of spending one hundred dollars to relieve the need of a stranger does not hesitate to risk his life to save this same stranger when they happen to be wearing the same uniform.”

“If you ask a computer what it is, it would say “I’m a computer”. If you ask a person today what he is, he would say something similar, like a thing.”

“Human qualities like friendliness and kindness are turned into commodities for exchange on the marketplace.”

“The pleasure of listening to a concert cannot possibly be expressed in terms of money, but people today ask whether it is worth the amount of money they paid to see it.”

“Who will tell whether one happy moment of love, or the joy of breathing on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies?”

“Life is a unique gift and challenge, not to be measured in terms of anything else, and no sensible answer can be given to the question whether it is “worth living” because the question does not make any sense.”

“Conscience depends on nonconformity.”

“Is it surprising that in a culture where our most popular news outlets present all sorts of negative garbage that teenagers have no problem beating people to death?”

“The aim of life is to live it intensely, to be fully born, to be fully awake. To emerge from the ideas of infantile grandiosity into the conviction of one’s real though limited strength; to be able to accept the paradox that every one of us is the most important thing there is in the universe — and at the same time not more important than a fly or a blade of grass. To be able to love life, and yet to accept death without terror; to tolerate uncertainty about the most important questions with which life confronts us — and yet to have faith in our thought and feeling, inasmuch as they are truly ours. To be able to be alone, and at the same time one with a loved person, with every brother on this earth, with all that is alive; to follow the voice of our conscience, the voice that calls us to ourselves, yet not to indulge in self hate when the voice of conscience was not loud enough to be heard and followed. The mentally healthy person is the person who lives by love, reason, and faith, who respects life, his own, and that of his fellow man.”

“Real patriotism is the recognition of our common humanity under one civilization.”

“Man is the end, and must never be used as the means.”

“The mentally healthy person is the productive and unalienated person; the person who relates himself to the world lovingly, and who uses his reason to grasp reality objectively; who experiences himself as a unique individual entity, and at the same time feels one with his fellow man; who is not subject to irrational authority, and accepts willingly the rational authority of conscience and reason; who is in the process of being born as long as he is alive, and considers the gift of life the most precious chance he has.”

“Equality of income isn’t necessarily desirable or practical, but a dignified human existence for everyone should be the goal.”

“Society should be responsible for the education of not only children, but people of every age.”

“As long as we can think of other alternatives, we are not lost.”

#37: “The Birth and Death of Meaning”, by Ernest Becker

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Summary: Ray Bradbury once said that the more truth you can squeeze onto one page, the more literary you are. Well Ernest Becker shatters illusions on every page and points our focus to the real problem of life. The problem of becoming comfortable with anxiety, and proceeding despite the arbitrariness of our social fictions. This is one of my absolute favorite books of all time, and I review my notes on this one often. It has changed the way I talk to people, it has changed the way I take action in the world, it has changed everything. Please, please read.

My Favorite Notes:

“Man creates, out of freedom, a prison.”

“Some people identify with their possessions and family members etc as literally part of their selves.”

“Bank managers can kill themselves when their money dwindles down because they ARE those numbers, and when the numbers go down to zero, that means that they are already dead.”

“The ability to withstand anxiety is probably the only genuine heroism given to man.”

“The vitality of self-esteem to mental health cannot be overemphasized.”

“If you really want to understand someone, ask him what his framework of reference for heroism looks like or why he doesn’t feel like a hero in his own life.”

“If you want to understand why a youth opts out of the system, find out why it fails to offer him a chance for heroism.”

“Culture is a structure of rules, ideas, and customs which serves as a vehicle for heroism.”

“Children and adults need to see themselves as being an object of primary value in the universe.”

“Children are trained to want to do what society tells them that they have to do.”

“People willingly propagate whole cultural systems which hold them in bondage.”

“At stake during each social encounter is the positive self image that each person has laboriously crafted for himself.”

“Man’s answers to the problem of his existence are in large part fictional.”

“Society is beginning to crumble around an archaic commercial-military hero-system, unrelated to the needs and challenges of contemporary life. But to turn the hero-system around to one of peace, social service, the reconstruction of society, seems beyond the imagination and capability of the people.”

“Man, if he is to survive, has to bring down to near zero the large fictional element in his hero-systems.”

“It unnerves people when they meet someone so indifferent to the game that we are all playing.”

“The last thing that man can admit to himself is that his way of life is arbitrary.”

“The only way that man could securely know that he was a hero would be if he really knew what was going on in evolution on this planet and in the cosmos. If he knew for sure how things were supposed to come out and where his part fit into the outcome, then he could relax and accept death because his life would be lived in the Truth of Creation. But this is precisely what he cannot know, can never know. And so the bitter defensiveness of his fictions, the desperation of his pretence of certainty that his cultural hero-system is the true one.”

“If a person admitted this utter lack of control, that death lurks at every breath, and let it rise to consciousness, it would drive him to fear and trembling, to the brink of madness.”

“Culture is composed of the mechanisms of defense of an infant afraid of being alone in the dark.”

“Neurosis is a constriction of perception and action due to the need to maintain a positively valued self from within an inferior power position. And so we can flatly and empirically say that everyone is neurotic, some more than others.”

“Whole societies which fail to act on real priorities for their survival can be said to be neurotic.”

“The task of social science is nothing less than the uncovering of our social illusions.”

“Power, for man, is the ability to support contradictions, nothing less.”

“Nature has no respect for even unanimous mis-perceptions of reality, and she has the coldest equanimity for the enthusiasms that carry whole populations into rapture.”

“The whole sense of a human life is a struggle in the direction of an unattainable yet meaningful ideal.”

“Many people stumble into a way of life that society rewards them for.”

“Most of our life is a rationalization for not finding out who we really are.”

“Comfortable illusion is now a danger to human survival.”

#38: “A Year of Living Generously”, by Lawrence Scanlan

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Summary: Man, this was a book that just found its way into my hands, and then changed the way I saw everything. Who the hell knows how that worked out, but I’m just grateful that it did. A Year of Living Generously follows Lawrence Scanlan around for a year as he spends about a month volunteering with 12 different causes, mostly in Canada. From poverty, to homeless, to addiction, to palliative care, to the environment, there are needs everywhere and Scanlan draws your attention to each of them in a way that brings you closer to those in need of help. You start to realize that you’re not so far removed, and that as Rumi says, we’re all just walking each other home.

My Favorite Notes:

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

“We’re not bad people. We just got lost.”

“There are no unimportant acts of kindness.”

“Poverty is the worst form of violence.”

“The mortality rate of homeless people is four times higher than that of housed people.”

“What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for each other?”

“No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted”

“I’ve always appreciated nature, but now I find myself saying ‘Stop. Look.’”

“The more eyes there are on any specific place, the safer it tends to be.”

“Corrections Canada don’t wanna correct you. They’d be out of a job.”

“What inmates need is for someone to believe in them.”

“No person should be defined by his or her worst act.”

“I don’t think there’s anything exceptional or noble in being philanthropic. It’s the other attitude that confuses me.”

“One of the greatest gifts you can offer to someone else is to listen to his or her story.”

“Turn kindness into a quiet and routine gesture, out of respect for the recipient.”


After all that, I’m sure you don’t want a long conclusion, so I’ll keep it relatively simple.

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I greatly enjoyed sharing these spectacular books with you, and it’s my sincerest hope that they find a way to impact you in the same sort of way that they have impacted me.

This list is not yet finished, however, and I will be adding more after I finish reading other books that I feel deserve to be placed on this list.

You can also view my entire reading list (every single book that I’ve ever read), by following this link HERE.

And you can download your free copy of my OWN book, The Godlike Discipline Handbook, by following this link HERE.

It features 13 concepts that are absolutely critical to achieving superhuman self-control, and gives 64 specific, actionable strategies to help you master self-discipline and willpower.

What are some of your favorite books of all time? Are there any that you feel deserve to make the list? Let me know in the comments!

All the best,

Matt Karamazov


Matt Karamazov is a human rights activist, boxer, and writer who reads at least 100 books every year and throws 300 punches per minute. His website, Godlike Discipline, is dedicated to raising money for causes like Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch, among others. It’s also dedicated to helping people tackle their biggest willpower challenges. He also like death metal, and so, consequently doesn’t get many second dates.

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