For the past few years, I’ve formed a habit of asking everyone for book recommendations. It’s one of the habits that has truly changed my life.
Reading is my favorite way to develop my mind because it’s the most effective way to learn something. But not every book changes the way you think. Francis Bacon said it best:
“Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.”
So when I recently stumbled upon a question on Quora that went like this: “What are some books that expand our mind?” I started thinking about the books that had such an impact on me. Because not every book has the same impact.
To me, expanding your mind means that a book had an impact on the way I look at the world.
And after serious thought, I came up with the following 22 books that caused a real shift in the way I think. I hope they expand your mind too.
1. Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl
I still think about this book almost daily, years after I first read it. What happened to millions of Jews 70 years ago, is truly horrific. We forget that it was only a few decades ago. Not centuries. And Victor Frankl’s account of his experience in concentration camps is almost superhuman. His philosophy and perspective on life should be cherished and passed on forever. Read this book.
2. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau started my ‘thinking about life’ journey ten years ago. I remember how I discovered his writings — through the movie Into The Wild. The movie (released in 2007) was based on a Jon Krakauer book with the same title about Christopher McCandless, a young and naïve idealist who wanted to live a simple life. McCandless’s story is sad. But his biggest inspiration was Thoreau. And since Thoreau isn’t recommended reading in school in The Netherlands, I decided to pick it up by myself (and the Jon Krakauer book too). I haven’t stopped thinking, reflecting, and living more consciously ever since.
3. The Art Of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli
We make a lot of decisions in our life. How many of those decisions are rational? If you ask Dobelli, very little. This book is an excellent collection of 99 thinking errors — from cognitive biases to social distortions. This is the most practical book I’ve read on decision making.
4. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
This book lives up to its hype. You will change the way you think after reading Kahneman’s book. It’s a summary of his most important findings ever since he started as a cognitive psychologist in 1961. I think it’s one of the most important books that’s published in recent years.
5. The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal
Self-control is the number one skill that helped me through my college years. And this practical book inspired me to bring my willpower to the next level. McGonigal writes in a down-to-earth manner that inspires you to take action.
6. Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Your ability to enjoy your work not only determines work satisfaction, but it also impacts how good you become at something. Flow is one of those books I think about every day. Getting in a flow state is something that actually changes the way you work and experience life.
7. The Story of the Human Body by Daniel Lieberman
Who knew that knowledge about human evolution could change the way you live? At least, that’s what happened to me. To truly understand your body, you have to know how it evolved. You’ll appreciate it more after reading this book — I can tell you that.
8. Spark by John Ratey
I’m a big believer in daily exercise. To me, it’s as important as breathing. John Ratey’s book inspired me to include daily exercise into my life. And I can’t tell you enough how significant the impact has been on my productivity, confidence, health, happiness, and overall enjoyment of life.
9. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
I don’t agree with all the hype of this book being the best book of all time. It is, however, a great summary of human history and evolutionary psychology. And, most importantly, it reads beautifully.
10. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
A novel about a young, nameless black man, as he moves through life invisible, “‘simply because people refuse to see me.” Is the book fact or fiction? Doesn’t matter because it paints the picture from one person’s perspective on race—that’s what matters. The book is published in 1952 but still seems current after all those years. Life is about understanding others. This book will help you do that.
11. Influence by Robert B. Cialdini
This classic book teaches you the science of persuasion. And it’s full of research and anecdotes that will change the way you look at life, relationships, business, and people’s intentions.
12. Quiet by Susan Cain
Most introverts don’t even know they are introverts. Quiet is a book about knowing yourself. And that simple skill can change the outcome of your life. It comes down to this: Don’t try to be something you’re not.
13. When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead by Jerry Weintraub
One of the most entertaining life stories I’ve read. Weintraub is a Hollywood legend. He’s someone who genuinely thought different from the rest of his industry. And this book inspires you to be more practical, hard-nosed, and persuasive.
14. The Greatest Salesman In The World by Og Mandino
If you’re looking for a hardcore self-help book, look no further. If you read this book the way Og Mandino instructs, it will change your life.
15. Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz
Making decisions is one of the most mentally draining things you have to do daily. This book changed the way I look at options: Less is better.
16. The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Forming new habits is a practical skill that immediately impacts the quality of your life. Want to lose weight? Be more productive? Exercise regularly? Build successful companies? One thing is sure: Without habits, those things will be extremely difficult to pull off.
17. Daily Rituals by Mason Currey
A unique insight into the habits and rituals of the world’s most renown figures. You’ll be surprised how simple their lives were.
18. Getting To Yes by Roger Fisher
Most people are afraid of negotiation. That’s an entirely unjust feeling. It’s actually fun to negotiate. And you should do it more often. Who doesn’t want to pay less and earn more?
19. The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told To Alex Haley
To me, Malcolm X is the real symbol of a self-made man. It has nothing to do with money or fame. You make yourself by expanding your mind. That’s what Malcolm X did in prison. Hands down, the best biography I’ve ever read.
20. The Moral Animal by Robert Wright
You can’t put human behavior into perspective without knowing more about our evolution. It’s a little depressing. But so is life. Study it, instead of getting sad by it. As a result, you’ll be more understanding towards people and yourself.
21. Mastery by Robert Greene
The ultimate guide to becoming good at what you do. This book is not only a playbook for mastery, but it’s also a collection of biographies of great historical figures.
22. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Multiple readers recommended this book to me. Bird by Bird is about more than writing. If it doesn’t make you a better writer (which I doubt), it will make you a better person.
Like I’ve said before, I hope you pick up one of these books and that they will change the way you think. And don’t let the money hold you back.
One of my friends recently told me that he had bought a 4K television. But when I told him a year ago to read a few of the books listed above, he answered: “Books are way too expensive.”
This reminded me of something my mentor once said when I complained about the cost of education:
“Ignorance costs you more than you’ll ever know.”
Fuck 4K televisions. I’m buying and reading books instead.
Darius Foroux is the author of Win Your Inner Battles and founder of Procrastinate Zero. He writes at DariusForoux.com, where he uses tested methods and frameworks to share ideas for overcoming procrastination, improving productivity, and achieving more. Join his free newsletter.