Seth Godin said: “if you spend twenty dollars on a book and get one idea from it, that’s a bargain”.
I like books.
I’ve wanted to start a book club for a while now, but can never seem find the time, or more truthfully, never make the time to pull the trigger. Ultimately, I just love talking about books and ideas with smart people and want to this to be more of a conversation. You can think of this as a virtual book club of sorts, and If you have any book recommendations for me or have any comments or conversation-starters about some of the books on the list, you can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or find me on social media (links at the top).
The Reading List
If you sign up for the reading list e-mail, you can expect a handful of recommendations of the very best books I read each month, why I chose them, what I learned from them, and why you should read them too.
To give you an idea of what to expect, these are some of my absolute favorite books from the past several years. These are books that directly shaped the person I am at the moment of writing this; hugely impactful.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport
This book directly lead me to getting my top two choices for internship placements during my final semester in grad school. In one of them, the company created a position just for me, allowing me to completely sidestep the routine internship program and application rigmarole. The second lead to an independent contractor position at Examine.com that I’m still proud to be a part of today. More than any other book I’ve read, this book taught me that skill trumps all when it comes to finding meaningful work and moving forward in your industry. The book in a nutshell: If you want to produce meaningful work, you need remarkable skills, to hone your skills requires deliberate practice, deliberate practice necessitates external feedback to bring you to the edge of your comfort zone, upgrading your level of competency. If you need a fire lit under your ass, this is the book for you.This book, along with others like The 4-Hour Workweek and Essentialism teach you the difference between working hard and working smart; not always the same thing.
The Complete Essays by Michel de Montaigne
The more I read Montaigne, the more I believe this guy is my spirit animal. The french nobleman-turned-philosopher is the father of the essay as a literary form, and his version of philosophy is a meandering, almost stream-of-consciousness reflection of his own life and what that means for all of humanity.
Though Montaigne was alive during the Renaissance, he offers profound insights that, even today, help us understand and make sense of topics like sadness, idleness, liars, fear, cannibals, books, thumbs, smells, history, solitude, emotions, and just about everything else that troubles mankind. Montaigne is infinitely relatable, and the amount of wisdom in his essays is pretty astonishing; it’s basically an encyclopedia on living a meaningful life.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
This book is a guide on how to cultivate the proper mindset for success in any creative endeavor. Pressfield talks mostly about resistance, which is anything the prevents you from doing your work; procrastination, self-doubt, fear of failure, etc., and how the reader can navigate these hurdles and impediments. The book is about showing up every day, putting in the work, and harnessing your creativity in the best way possible. The sequel, Turning Pro is about making the leap from amateur to professional, that is, treating your craft like the job that it is, and Do The Work is about seeing a project through from start to finish. Doing any creative work is often about making it a habit. simply showing up, and putting in the reps. Every day. The Creative Habit and Choose Yourself are solid books that also teach you about importance of cultivating good habits, mindsets, and routines with the intention of increasing creative output. Daily Rituals is a good one that gives you a glimpse of habits of hundreds of successful creative people ranging from artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians and otherwise.
The Enchiridion by Epictetus
While much shorter than Seneca’s Letters From a Stoic, or The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (which is a good primer on stoicism), the Enchiridion resonated with me on a more immediate level, imparting an immediate urge to reassess and examine my progress in life. The Enchiridion, Greek for ‘manual’, is basically an instruction manual for how to live a tranquil life, free of unnecessary pain and suffering. Epictetus was a man born into slavery and was physically disabled, but after he was freed, he spent his whole career teaching stoic philosophy and the importance of self-examination.
Epictetus in particular believed that much of man’s troubles are a result of unclear thinking and not seeing the world as it is. He advises that so long as we perceive things like death, pain, and adversity as natural, normal parts of life, then we are able to live tranquilly, not overreacting when obstacles arise. Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life is a great companion to the Enchiridion as well. The Inner Game of Tennis is a great metaphor for the importance of inner stability and learning when it’s appropriate to react emotionally or rationally. Man’s Search for Meaning is another great one that teaches you importance of perception, perseverance, and finding meaning in even the most dire circumstances.
Mastery by Robert Greene
This book is amazing. It is easily one of the best books I’ve ever read. After college, my Mom gave me a copy of What Color is Your Parachute, but I wish she would have given me this book instead. I probably refer to Mastery more than any other book I’ve read, especially when looking for pull quotes or examples for something I’m writing, or even strategies for advancing my career. The scope and amount of research that went into Mastery (and all of Robert Greene’s books) is staggering; it’s basically an encyclopedia of to-do’s, not-to-do’s, strategies, and cautionary tales, all pertaining to the acquisition of mastery in any field or endeavor. Greene uses the lives of historical figures like Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon, Einstein, and Da Vinci, along with a few contemporaries, as case studies, then distills the common strategies and hands them to you in a step-by-step guide that is completely replicable in the 21st century. After reading this book, you’ll feel like you can master anything you put your mind to, and you probably can if you heed Green’s teachings.
The Way of the Superior Man by David Deida
While Deida is a tad woo woo for me, this book actually has a ton of solid advice. Before Tucker Max wrote Mate, there weren’t very many useful books out there for young guys who wanted to improve in life and with women. If Mate is the quintessential, evidence-based guide on how to be an effective man in the world, Way of the Superior Man is a more of an abstract guide that encourages you to evaluate your own life and thought patterns; that is, it invites the reader to reflect. I read this book in my early twenties, and while Mate would have been more helpful, it was the first thing that really helped me understand the fundamental differences between men and women, and how to have a healthy relationship while respecting these differences. I recommend this book all the time, often to women, because it does offer some valuable insights into both the male and female psyche; Deida tells you what women want in a guy, as well as what guys admire in women. What he advocates aligns with what the scientific evidence suggests from books like Sex at Dawn, and The Mating Mind.
Quiet by Susan Cain
I only read this book this past year, but I think I highlighted something on almost every page and filled out a stack of note cards worth of passages, quotations, and other notes for myself. I’ve gotten a lot of grief my whole life for being so quiet and reserved, and this book helped me understand why that is. I’m a purebred introvert, and the book exemplifies much of the common elements among introverts, with a large emphasis on creativity. Cain draws on numerous case studies, psychological research, and neuroscience in talking about the unsung advantages and potential of introversion. We live in a society that favors the bold, brash, outgoing people, what she calls the “extrovert ideal”, and Cain illustrates just why that is, and why we undervalue the more inquisitive, quiet introverts. Quiet is an attempt at explaining how the world works through the lens of introversion and extroversion; the book helped me understand a lot about myself, and introvert or extrovert, this is a fascinating and revealing book that you should check out.