The 10 Most Important Books to Expand Your Brain

Here’s my top 10 list of books that will raise your IQ between the time you start and the time you end.


Books suck. No question about it, almost everyone who writes a book is a crappy writer.

And this is a good thing.

It’s because the writer spent his life getting good at what he was writing about. He didn’t spend his life being good at writing.

He didn’t spend his life typing. He ran a country. Or built a robot. Or discovered DNA or walked between the Twin Towers.

He or she did something. Something that changed lives. Something that went from his or her head out into the real world.

But that’s O.K. There are a few good books out there.

I like reading billion-person books. Books, that if read widely, would change a billion lives.

I like reading books where I feel my brain have an I.Q. orgasm. Like, I literally feel my I.Q. go up while reading the book.

And (please let me stick with this metaphor one more sentence), I might have a little brain-child that turns into my own special idea or book after reading a great book.

Before I give my list, I want to mention there are three kinds of non-fiction books. (And I’m only dealing with non-fiction. Fiction is another category).


These are books like How to be a leader.

They establish the author as an expert. The author then uses this book to get speaking gigs or coaching or consulting gigs.

These books usually suck. Don’t read one. But nothing wrong with writing one.

In fact, writing one might be desperately important to your career.


A publisher will see an article somewhere like, “12 ways to become smarter” and say, “that should be a book.”

Then the writer mistakenly says, “O.K.” and he has to undergo the agony of changing something that was a perfectly good 2,000-word article into a 60,000-word book.

Those books suck. Don’t read one. And definitely don’t write one. Unless you want to waste a year of your life. I wasted 2004-2009 doing that.


Here’s my top 10 list of braingasm books. Books that will raise your IQ between the time you start and the time you end.

By the way, there are more than 10 of these books. This is just my TOP 10. Although not really in that order. It’s hard for a small mind like mine to order these.

[Note: I KNOW, Jeff, that I have a monthly book club. Don’t yell at me!]

But this is separate. That’s 10 books A MONTH.

This is my top 10 of ALL TIME, although it might change. In fact, I know it’s going to change tomorrow. I’m reading a good book right now.

Sometimes it changes everyday.].


Mastery by Robert Greene

This book is like a curated version of 1000 biographies all under the guise, “how to become a master at what you love”.

Bold by Peter Diamondis and Steven Kotler

Basically if you want to know the future, read this.

Supplement it with Abundance by the same two and Tomorrowland by Steven Kotler and even The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley.

I feel Abundance is like a sequel to The Rational Optimist. So I’m giving you four books with one recommendation.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell is not the first person to come up with the 10,000-hour rule. Nor is he the first person to document what it takes to become the best in the world at something.

But his stories are so great as he explains these deep concepts.

How did the Beatles become the best? Why are professional hockey players born in January, February and March?

And so on.

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson

Also, add to this How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson.

Basically: don’t believe the myth of the lonely genius.

Ideas come from a confluence of history, “the adjacent possible” specific geographic locations, etc.

The connections Johnson makes are brilliant. For instance, The Gutenberg Press (which, in itself, was invented because of improvements in sewing looms), made everyone realize they had bad vision.

So the science of lenses was created. So microscopes were eventually created. So germs were eventually discovered. So modern medical science was discovered.

And so on. Johnson is a thinker and a linker and tells a good story.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

I’m at a loss for words here. Just read it.

Don’t read it for the Holocaust. Or psychological theory.

Read it because when you’re about halfway through you will realize your life is no longer the same.

And next time you get a chance to whisper in the ear of someone about to kill himself, whisper words from this book.

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin

And while you are at it, throw in Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice by Matthew Syed, who was the U.K. table tennis champion when he was younger.

I love any book where someone took their passion, documented it and shared it with us. That’s when you can see the subtleties, the hard work, the luck, the talent, the skill, all come together to form a champion.

Heck, throw in An Astronaut’s Guide to Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything by Col. Chris Hadfield.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel

There’s a lot of business books out there. Ninety-nine percent of them are BS. Read this one.

So many concepts really changed my attitude about not only business but capitalism.

Thiel, the founder of PayPal, and first investor in Facebook, is brilliant in how he simply shares his theories on building a billion dollar business.

I love his story on my podcast about what exactly happened in the room when a 24-year-old Mark Zuckerberg was offered $250 million and refused it in two minutes.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Probably half the world is introverts.

Maybe more. It’s not an easy life to live.

I sometimes have that feeling in a room full of people, “Uh-oh. I just shut down. I can’t talk anymore and there’s a lock on my mouth and this crowd threw away the key.”

Do you ever get that feeling? Please? I hope you do. Let’s try to lock eyes at the party.

Quiet shows the reader how to unlock the secret powers that probably half the world needs to unlock.

And please, Susan Cain, come on my podcast.

Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Taleb

And throw in The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness.

“Fragile” means if you hit something might break.

“Resilient” means if you hit something, it will stay the same.

My podcast Nassim discusses “Antifragility”—building a system, even on that works for you on a personal level, where you if you harm your self in some way it becomes stronger.

That podcast changed my life

He discusses Antifragility throughout history, up to our current economic situation, and even in our personal situations.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

Again, I am fascinated by the field of mastery.

Not self-improvement (eat well, sleep well, etc.) but on how can you continue a path of improvement so that you can really enjoy the subtleties at a very deep level of whatever it is you love.

Carol Dweck, through massive research and storytelling, shows the reader how to continue on the path of improvement and why so many people fall off that path.


These are not books I’m picking so I can look smart. These are books that I’ve read that have made me smarter.


James Altucher’s latest book, The Rich Employee, is now out. This book gives you the tools to find satisfaction, meaning and true wealth as a rich employee. Get your copy here.

The 10 Most Important Books to Expand Your Brain