Postscript— I have thought many times about taking this article down. It’s true that I like these books, and reading was indeed a very important part of my process, yet…
One thing I learned from nearly two decades of reading is that pouring through books is of little value, relative to taking the best books and mastering them.
For instance, in speaking with someone about communications, I suggested, rather than reading a bunch of books, go deep into mastering Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People.
Sure, there’s lots of great books out there on this topic, but in the end it’s not what we’ve read, or the many great ideas we have consumed, but, specifically, how good we are at putting to work these ideas every day.
So, I keep this article here, but strongly suggest that rather than kindof knowing 52 books this year, master a small number that truly drive transformational learnings and results for you.
I started this new phase of my life by reading. Years before I quit Goldman Sachs, stepping back from my career and asking, What Do I Want? I had no clue where to go for answers.
So I just started reading books on self-help, personal development and everything else that I thought would help me figure out my life. Like Forrest Gump, one day I started reading, and I never stopped. All the time people ask me what I’m searching for in all these books, and I tell them quite simply I’m searching for the same thing that you are.
I know to some people that sounds like a lot, but I also know that if most people stack up the amount of time that they spend reading junk (e.g. basically all “disposable” information online or in the news), they’d find tons of time to consume knowledge that will transform their life.
For those of you who are looking to keep growing, I’ve put together this course of 52 books for you to read over the next year—one book a week—that will transform you and your life.
Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time
Brian Tracy’s classic is one of the best books on getting things done. Goal setting, initiative, focus, and follow through—it covers it all. It’s the perfect choice to get the ball rolling in week 1.
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
A fantastic read on the power of being present in the moment, and on drilling down to understand your truest self. Not easy to work through, but worth it.
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living
The premise of this book is simple, you worry too much. Especially when you’re looking down the barrel at 49 more weeks of this reading course, it’s good to get the worry gene out of your system
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
Tying together all the things you’ve read so far, this book is about allowing yourself to relax enough to hit your highest levels of productivity.
Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration–Lessons from The Second City
The Second City is a storied school of comedy, famous for their improvisational skills, based out of Chicago. This book is their guide to improvisation, a skill that gets you out of your head and into your body. It’s key to building confidence and learning how to snap in and out of flow.
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
This book comes with a caveat. I disagree with the idea that everyone wants an easy life. If you do want to live a life with as little work as possible, that’s fine, but that’s not what my system is about. The reason I’d recommend this book is because Tim is a master of setting a goal and building a system to achieve it. That’s one of the most valuable skills you can learn.
Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All
This is such a critical skill. Creative confidence is the ability to put forth ideas and create without second-guessing yourself. Negative self-talk is a huge roadblock for so many people, and this book nails the answer to fixing it.
Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High
This book’s tagline says it all: “Be persuasive, not abrasive.” So many people are great at casual chit-chat, but don’t know how to talk when there’s more on the line. Hard conversations are just that—hard. This book makes them easier.
Thoughts Without A Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective
This is a classic of modern psychology. This book isn’t going to give you a list of strategies to start improving your life tomorrow, but it is hugely helpful in developing a foundation of knowledge regarding your mind and how it works.
The Magic of Thinking Big
An old school classic of the self-improvement genre, this book still holds up as one of the seminal works on goal setting and achievement. Will reinforce many things you learned from the last books, and add some new information.
The 48 Laws of Power
The New York Times described this book by saying “Amoral, cunning, ruthless, and instructive, The 48 Laws of Power is the definitive manual for anyone interested in gaining, observing, or defending against ultimate control.” I can’t think of a better way to sum it up. Required reading.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
One of the best books ever written on controlling your mindspace for productivity. Email, text message, Facebook messenger, DMs, messaging platforms like Slack—there’s no end to distractions in the modern world. Deep Work is the guide to staying productive.
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t
Mostly considered a business book, this is actually a phenomenal guide to understanding what it takes to succeed professionally in different roles. After reading this, whatever your career goals, you’ll understand the sort of person you’ll need to be to succeed.
The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation
Where does creativity come from? What does productive creativity look like? This book answers all of that in a fascinating study of one of the most historic labs in the history of humanity. Bell Labs still is responsible for more Nobel prizes than any other lab in history.
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams
Deepak Chopra is a controversial figure in his own right, but regardless of how you feel about the man, his insight into the human psyche is incredible. Well worth the read regardless of how you ultimately feel towards his philosophies.
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow
Leadership is something no one is born being good at. The phrase “natural leader” is usually thrown around to describe someone who is naturally charismatic, but charisma is not leadership. If you want to be a leader, you need to learn the systems involved.
The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done
The measure of the executive, Peter F. Drucker reminds us, is the ability to “get the right things done.” This usually involves doing what other people have overlooked as well as avoiding what is unproductive. Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge may all be wasted in an executive job without the acquired habits of mind that mold them into results.
First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently
Most of the advice out there on leadership and management is garbage. This book takes the right approach, telling you to throw out whatever you read in articles like “33 Leadership Hacks,” and look to the world’s greatest managers to learn.
Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment
If you ever heard the buzz around “Positive Psychology,” this is where it all starts. Regardless of how annoying zealots of that philosophy can be, there are gems of knowledge here that will be incredibly useful for you.
Fuck Feelings: Less Obsessing, More Living
The perfect follow up to a book about how important your feelings are, Fuck Feelings is a great for understanding how to control your feelings while still honoring them. You don’t have to be an ice cold savage to be successful, but you also don’t have to go to pieces every day.
Man’s Search For Meaning
Man’s Search For Meaning is equal parts heartbreaking and life changing. The survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, this book details the author’s system for living a purpose driven life. They say the proof is in the pudding, and no one has a life story to serve as a greater proof than this man.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
Almost everything we do in life comes down to habit. That’s why in my system, conditioning your mind through daily repetition is key. The decisions you make throughout your day, whether they be personal or professional, almost always are the product of habit. The better you understand that, the more control you’ll have over your life.
Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
Not just about leadership, but about influence, Start With Why is an amazing book that will teach you methods of communication and action that will influence and inspire those around you. Critical read for anyone planning on taking a leadership position.
Thinking, Fast and Slow
A bestseller and classic work on the systems that control our judgment. In the book, the author outlines two dominant modes of thinking that we all exhibit. Mode 1 is fast and emotional. Mode 2 is slower and logical. Understanding how to control these two systems is critical to your own success.
Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win
The authors of this book are—you guessed it—Navy SEALs. They wrote this book after touring in Iraq, where they were tasked with securing the embattled city of Ramadi. Through death and victory they learned fundamental lessons about leadership and winning that all of us can learn from.
Now, Discover Your Strengths
As humans, we’re remarkably bad at taking inventory of ourselves and discovering what we’re actually good at. We have vague notions of what we like and what people have said we’re good at, but we rarely get systematic and drill down into what our strengths and weaknesses are.
Wherever You Go, There You Are
First published in 1994, this is a classic on the topic of mindfulness. In particular, this book does a good job of framing mindfulness not just in the context of your day-to-day, but in regards to your larger vision for your life.
What Makes Sammy Run?
A bit of fiction to break your list up a bit, this is the book that established all of the cliches of the over-ambitious, sleazy hustler types in the media business. The book follows a character named Sammy Glick as he ascends to stardom in Hollywood by exploiting others and hustling his way up. It’s a great study of the darker pieces of our motivations and the need to keep conscious of them.
Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence
This is the definitive work on emotional intelligence in the professional world. When it comes to managing relationships in the business world, emotional intelligence is the single most important skill to have, and you won’t find a better primer on it than this book.
First Things First
This is from the same author who wrote “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” a book you may have been force-read in middle school. This is by far the better book. It tackles prioritization and daily discipline in working towards goals. In the words of the publisher, “Rather than offering you another clock, First Things First provides you with a compass, because where you’re headed is more important than how fast you’re going.”
The Power of Positive Living
After weeks of tactical advice and psychology, this is a good read to check in on your emotional state and make sure you’re in a good place to complete the last 20 weeks of the course. Great book on positive thinking and the role it plays in getting what you want.
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
If you want to learn any skill, find someone who has mastered it and study how they did it. When it comes to translating raw creativity and vision into success, there are fewer companies who have done it better than Pixar. This book details the guiding philosophies and systems that power that success.
The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
Analysis paralysis is a real thing. One of the great problems that plagues us in the modern world is that for any decision, no matter how small, we can dive down a rabbit hole of research and analysis. Suddenly, the decision of where to eat lunch has taken 2 hours and involves spreadsheets and presentations. The Checklist Manifesto presents a system to fight this impulse.
The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles
We celebrate hustle and grind, but we rarely talk about resilience, which I find odd since without it, initiative and ambition are just promises to exhaust you. This book has great actionable advice for staying the course without burning out—very useful if you’re, say, in the middle of a year long reading list.
Toward a Psychology of Being
Abraham Maslow is considered the father of Humanistic Psychology, and one of the giants of psychology in general. This book is arguably his most famous contribution. There is no better text to explain human nature and the science behind our well-being. Absolutely critical read.
Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently
Connections create the foundation of leadership and success, there’s no way around it. Learning how to communicate better than your peers is the easiest way to put yourself ahead, and come closer to getting what you want.
Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t
I write a lot about how people who get out of bed dreading their day as a matter of routine are wasting their lives. You can lead a life you’re excited about everyday, and Leaders Eat Last is a phenomenal study of how you can create an environment that instills that sort of excitement.
The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play
Guilt-free play? What does that have to do with getting what you want? Well, procrastination is the enemy of progress, and most of the time procrastination takes the form of guilty play. You spend 15 minutes surfing articles to put something off, and you feel guilty the entire time. By getting ahead of procrastination, you open up pockets of time for guilt-free play in your life, allowing you to rest up your mental faculties and hit it even harder later.
The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds
This book is partially a study of the perhaps the greatest pairing of minds in history, and partially a primer on a theory of mind that will change the way you live your life. Understanding this is critical not just for understanding why you do the things you do, but for understanding and connecting with other people.
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness
Based in behavioral psychology, this book takes a deep dive on decision making in humans, outlining a “choice architecture” we use to make all of our decisions. When you understand why you make bad decisions, it becomes much easier to put systems in place to prevent them.
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
You won’t see this book on many people’s list of self-improvement titles, but it’s an important read. We live in a world where we are inundated with messaging, a lot of which tells us negative things about the world we live in. If you don’t understand the truth, that we are living in the greatest moment of human history, then it is easy to feel discouraged regardless of your skills.
Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life
Another work on self-improvement by a military man, this book provides actionable strategies for overcoming any obstacle you find thrown in your path. In general, you need two strategies to overcome adversity: one to move past it, and one to protect yourself. This book focuses on the latter.
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha
Shame, self-criticism, guilt—these are all classic examples of what I call “negative self-talk.” If you don’t address this, you won’t only miss out on your biggest goals, but you’ll never appreciate any progress you do make. This book is a guide to letting go of all of those negative tendencies.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
We all know the pleasure and enhanced productivity of a flow state. When an athlete is in the zone, they sometimes say they’re “unconscious,” as if their higher, reflective brain is turned off, and they’re just out there performing. Learning how to tap into that state on command is a massive skill, and this book helps you get there.
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
Groupthink, when our need for consensus and agreement overrides our rational mind, is a real danger to anyone working towards a larger goal. Nothing will derail you faster than deviating from your system because you listened to the wrong people.
A New Earth: Awakening To Your Life’s Purpose
Taking aim at the fear so many of us have—that despite our drive for success, we’ll never find a real sense of purpose—this book does a great job of helping you deconstruct what success is for you personally and build up a sense of purpose in life.
Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success
This book has a fairly simple premise: The difference between successful people and the mediocre comes down to how they respond to failure. Learning to use failure to use your advantage is a winning mentality, while letting it stimey you is what holds many back.
Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Compan
Another book meant for business advice that is really more geared to self-improvement, the CEO of Intel writes a masterpiece about staying vigilant and alert, while balancing the confidence and borderline-recklessness needed to survive.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Motivation is one of those things that everyone thinks they have until it’s actually tested. In this book, the author lays out a mental architecture for motivation that flies in the face of much of what we know. It turns out, the fear of failure is not a primary motivator compared to our need for purpose.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
According to the author of this book, there are six principles of persuasion you must know not only to exert more influence over others, but to protect yourself from being over-influenced by the people around you.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
An amazing study of what actually leads to success, Grit breaks down the myths around “genius” and exposes what actually moves the needle: the ability to persevere and stick to a long-term vision of success.
Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success
The perfect book to end this list with, Give and Take looks at why empathy and charity can become incredibly powerful drivers of your own success. When you’re so focused on improving yourself, it can become easy to get tunnel vision and let your relationships deteriorate. If you want to win, you can’t let that happen.