Reading great books is an easy way to learn about yourself and the world around you.
This is my collection of 16 books that I think we can learn interesting lessons from. I can whole-heartedly recommend all of them.
With every great book, I have added a short summary of the key points.
This is Day 7 in the 180 Day Challenge “Become an Idea Machine“.
16 Great books and what you can learn from them
These books include self-improvement books as well as novels and children’s books. Some of those that are supposed to be for young adults, they often contain wisdom I find myself drawn to even 25 years later. Plus, I imagine if you have kids, you can also read these books to them.
#1 – The Slight Edge (Jeff Olson)
This book teaches us that persistent every day action – no matter how small it is – is more important on the long run than one intense effort every two weeks. Moreover, it is important to follow your habits even once you have won. Most people reduce their efforts once they reach their goals – then watch their success slowly evaporate over time. The reason for that is that your choices are not “advancing” vs. “standing still”, they are “moving ahead” vs. “letting time move on without you”. Instead, do a small step every day, e.g. 20 minutes of workout, reading 10 pages of a book or connect two strangers with each other – for example, as mentioned in Choose Yourself.
#2 – Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
I like this book because even though it’s a 1,170 page tome, it stresses the individuals need to become free from the collective. We are not made to “serve” others, as religion and political theory will teach us. A philosophy based on redistributing goods based on the “need” of people will ultimately destroy itself. Only when we allow individuals to create something new and sell it, we can build a society. Because nothing will be built if everyone feels entitled to get an “equal share” or “fair amount” of society’s wealth. This book shows us that it is ok to be selfish and that we don’t need to feel guilty or ashamed to not serve others.
#3 – Gorilla Mindset (Mike Cernovich)
This book is important because it adds another dimension to the “growth vs. fixed” mindset: abundance vs. scarcity. In a scarcity mindset, you only have limited resources at your dispersal, be it external – the money you can earn, the partners you can date, the affection people extend to you – or internal – your development, talent and happiness. If you believe in abundance, you know that you can always create more relationships, money, sex, friendships and spiritual growth. Anything you don’t know yet, you can go out and learn. You can share your resources with others, as you know you there will easily be more. Gorilla Mindset takes us on a journey from self-talk via presence and posture to money, wealth vision and lifestyle, each chapter with its own set of exercises and daily habits, so you can ingrain these habits.
#4 – Choose Yourself (James Altucher)
Need I say more? According to James Altucher, companies and corporations hate your guts, so you might as well strike out on your own and do what you truly want. Thanks to the internet, we have all the tools we need and more to learn and start our own businesses. It doesn’t stop there, though. James Altucher provides tools to reinvent ourselves by going through a daily practise that covers your spiritual, emotional, physical and mental health… the latter one being the 10-idea challenge this very article is a part of.
#5 – The Millionaire Fastlane (MJ DeMarco)
This book points out that it doesn’t matter whether you are passionate, hard-working, rich, poor, selfish, selfless or anything else. What matters is that you need to create a product that fulfills a need.
There are three different lifestyle choices we can take. One is the “sidewalk”. Sidewalkers spend all the money they get and more. Since they are not saving anything, they are permanently relegated to the need to look for work to sustain their lifestyle. The second is the “Slow Lane”. On the Slow Lane, we leverage our lifetime for pay, 5 days a week, with usually the weekend off. We save our money and let it slowly compound interest until we are able to retire with 65 years of age, with only a couple more to live and enjoy our “wealth”. The third one, however, is the most powerful lifestyle – the “Fast Lane”. Here, we will put all of our time into creating a product that fulfills a need and sell it with an explosive gain of wealth. The result? 10 years tireless work and then retirement. This is how you can retire young and then do everything you love to do in financial independence.
#6 – Momo (Michael Ende)
This book is about the importance of time. Momo can listen like no other, and she gives people back the time that a horde of anonymous ‘Grey Men’ are stealing from people in exchange for consumerism and mindless efficiency.
#7 – The Neverending Story (Michael Ende)
A plead for the importance of immersing yourself in the moment and writing your own story. Bastian Balthasar Bux discovers the Neverending Story in a book store and starts reading it in the attic. A world unravels in front of his eyes – Fantásia is a realm that contains the stories people tell each other. It is on the verge of vanishing because humans are neglecting their creativity. Bastian, who has a lot of stories to tell, becomes sucked into the book and thus recreates Fantásia – while at the same time forgetting about who he is.
It is important to invent new stories and come up with your own ideas. At the same time, you need to keep grounded in your world and not completely forget about your past, because you can not create something new or invent yourself if you forget your roots.
What I love about the Neverending story is how beautiful different concepts are entangled within the book. To move the story forward, every chapter presents both a character and scenery in Fantásia as well as different aspects about the protagonist and ultimately about ourselves.
#8 – Bachelor Pad Economics (Aaron Clarey)
This is the concise guide from school to death. It covers the three main areas: money, health and fitness and social life and dating… The common lesson from this book is: we only have a finite amount of time to live. Don’t use it up on working and spending the money you make on material possessions. Instead, only work enough so that you can buy what you really need and spend the free time with people you like and care about. Bachelor Pad Economics shows you how.
#9 – Buddenbrooks (Thomas Mann)
This is one of my favorites because it shows the demise of a dynasty over the decades. It shows how a majestic empire – the Buddenbrook family – can fall based on small events: external like the German national revolution in 1848 or internal like wrong financial and lifestyle choices. The characters in the book all follow that what they belief is the best action at the time, yet these choices add up to doom their dynasty over time. Strikingly, they fail especially when they refuse to follow their own best judgement and either give in to temporary pleasures or bend their will to rigid traditions. The rules that built your empire are not the same that keep it alive and grow it. It does not matter if you follow these rules or rebel against them – you are only aiding your dynasty’s downfall.
#10 – Doctor Faustus (Thomas Mann)
This is about a different sort of demise. This time, it’s not about a family fortune, but a brilliant mind, Adrian Leverkühn. He signs up with the devil in old-fashioned “Faust” manner, which allows him to compose works of genius. What burns so brightly is then destroyed – he ends up dying of a mental disease. In parallel to Leverkühn’s story, there is Germany from 1933 – 45 – aiming towards greatness at all costs and collapse. It is saddening how both plots parallel each other, since you walk with a seeing eye towards the downfall in history once more. Aim towards growth at all costs – and you move towards destruction.
#11 – Don Carlo (Friedrich Schiller)
This theater play has taught me how even a king is powerless against an all-encompassing totalitarian power – in this case the Spanish Inquisition. King Philip II is in conflict with his idealistic, but weak son, because he married his fiancé, princess Elisabeth of Valois. Don Carlos wants to lead the Flamish uprising against his father. In the end, the catholic church asks Philip not to squash the rebellion but rather to kill his friend, the Marquis of Posa, because he encompasses the ideology of nationalism and freedom that threaten the fabric of the Catholic Church.
What was so striking about this book is that even though the Grand Inquisitor is blind, Philip is powerless to overthrow the church, as it would unravel the status quo of society. Verdi has turned the play into an opera, and the duet between King Philipp and the Grand Inquisitor brought me into opera.
#12 – Goedel, Escher, Bach (Douglas Hofstädter)
This book is about symmetry, mathematics and intelligence and made me aware of a fascinating observation – that we can’t understand a system from within the system itself. It is based on observations of strange loops that refer back on itself, as in a drawing by M.C. Escher. Hofstädter shows that these recursive loops exist in multiple works of art, music, mathematics and project into the future of programming and artificial intelligence, and speculates how these loops and singularities might hold the key to understanding our world.
#13 – The Dark Tower Series (Stephen King)
This is the story of the gunslinger Roland of Gilead, how is on a mission to find the Dark Tower who holds the beams that keep the world together. Roland is pursued by the Man in Black and finds several companions along the way. Together, they brave several dangers and grow together as a group. Stephen King is a great storyteller and he makes you strongly experience the power of friendship in a story that connects analogies to the Wizard of Oz to modern times and a dystopian future. If you want, this heptalogy (!) is a sex-and-crime version of the Lord of the Rings. What I learnt form it is that the power of a tribe can get you far and make you survive… but in the end it may well be your mission alone.
#14 – How to Argue and Win Every Time (Gerry Spence)
This book is about how you can “win” an argument by offering a possibility for both sides to find themselves represented. Spence shows us how we can define ourselves and then reach others on an emotional level. If you ever wanted to learn how to become charismatic, this resource is for you.
#15 – Look Who’s Back (Timur Vermes)
A satire that starts with Hitler waking up in the year 2011 in Berlin, Germany, by some unexplained phenomenon and starts, after a short reorientation, to rise up again. How a savvy person can use the power of celebrity and social media to spread his message – and understands these ways better than traditional media outlets, is impressive.
#16 – Man of Straw (Heinrich Mann)
This novel portraits the life of Diederich Hessling, a person buckling to the authorities and using that to climb up in societal status. He is a complete prisoner of status envy, and thus a caricature of the typical German before WWI. Hessling thinks himself important because he leverages the system to acquire status and military ranking. Yet in the end he is a complete follower, whose most sacred achievement in life is having been greeted by Emperor Wilhelm II on a military parade. If we want to understand how a whole nation could happily and blindly adopt a complete collectivist mindset and blindly follow their Führers into war, Man of Straw shows us how.
If you want to check out “Become an Idea Machine”, you can do so here.
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If you’d like to see an additional list, check by Ed’s blog where he has reviewed 52 books in 52 weeks!