Although my official occupation is “college student”, I’d estimate 80% of my “education” (aka, useful shit, excluding life experiences) has come from extracurricular reading. Every book on this list has been read 3-10+ times and underlined and margin-marked to the point where the original words take concentration to make out. All of these books are best looked at as a conduit for each author’s individual life philosophy, that’s what makes me read them over and over again and what makes them tangibly valuable in my life. What I’ve gotten out of each book has changed every couple months, and I know I’ll always get something new out of each one if I read it again.
Top 4 (8 books):
1) How to Win Friends and Influence People-By Dale Carnegie
This remains the most important book I have ever read in my life. Literally life-changing. I still have moments when I’m an aggressive asshole and suffer from the occasional collegiate relationship drama, but for the most part, I have ZERO social conflict in my life and I credit internalizing this book’s lessons. I first discovered it at 19 when I was moving back home to Marin County after spending 6 months at Santa Barbara City College and realizing that I had NO CLUE how to have productive, friendly relationships outside of a small group of friends that I connected with at a deep level. While I still wouldn’t consider myself a paradigm of social grace (it’s a continuous work in progress) this book taught me how to be a friendly, approachable person, and how to genuinely value other people (something that did NOT come naturally to me).
P.S. An honorable mention to UC Davis’ own Richard Osibanjo (author of Turning Points, which is great in it’s own right and I highly recommend), who brought me back onto the path of genuinely liking people when I was depressed and despondent about the state of higher education Fall 2013 and Winter 2014. To this day he is the most personally important and influential person I have met at Davis, even though I only interacted with him for two hours at the 2014 Aggies Leading the Way Conference. It’s positively silly how short interactions with exceptional people can change your whole outlook on life, this was one of them for me.
2) The 4-Hour Workweek- by Timothy Ferris
Even though this is intended as a business book, it’s become one of the most important personal development references I’ve ever had for building self confidence and embracing unconventional thinking. Like How to Win Friends and Influence People, I discovered Tim Ferris book at 19, when I was going through one of my many young adult crisis-of-purpose phases. This book touches on so many important, PRACTICAL issues was hard for me to believe the first time through. I’d read two or three pages, then read them again, and again, and then have to put the book down for 20 minutes to go for a walk because the ideas were so groundbreaking I needed time to mentally and emotionally process them. Originally marketed as a Silicon Valley Productivity Guru, Tim Ferris has become one of the dominant male role models of my life just through his writing. It took discovering him to realize that it’s possible for someone to be an attention-seeking unconventional thinker and be REWARDED for it. Conquering fear, managing time, setting priorities, evaluating relationships, finding personal meaning, and living one’s dreams in a tangible way, ALL of this is in this book. I’ve cried multiple times reading certain passages and have quotes plastered on the walls of my apartment (totally normal, I promise). Somewhat ironically, 60% of the book’s content barely even applies to me because it involves real world business negotiations and how-to entrepreneurial blueprints, experiences I’ve yet to touch in my life. I will continue to re-reading this into the future, especially as I start on business ventures of my own and finally have the perspective to understand much of the book’s business-related content.
3) The Way of the Peaceful Warrior (also, The Journey of Socrates)- by Dan Millman
It’s ironic that this book follow Robert Greene’s on my list, as this book book is essentially a “based on a true story” narrative designed to deliver new-age, Western Buddhist teachings. I first read this book at 15, and although I’ve since abandoned the life philosophy it espouses, it was very profound to me at the time. The book is semi-autobiographical, following the author’s real-life college encounters with his spiritual mentor (who is secretly his great-grandfather) nicknamed “Socrates”. Socrates systematically breaks down Millman’s arrogant, self-absorbed, entitled self and teaches him Western Buddhism as means to happiness through destroying the ego. Socrates’ character is based upon Millman’s real life great grandfather, Sergei, a 20th century Russian immigrant who’s pregnant wife was killed in an anti-Jewish hate crime at the hands of Pre-WWI Russian Cossacks and discovered spirituality as a way to cope. Although I fundamentally disagree with Socrates’ conclusion that ego-death is the secret to a satisfying and fulfilled life, the book is full of meaningful life lessons about the value of humor and self-awareness in developing a meaningful high-performance life. Unfortunately, Dan Millman significantly hurts his own narrative by giving Socrates impossible quasi-mystical powers, and his college self is repulsively obnoxiously, but the book is still extremely meaningful.
4, 5, 6, 7, 8) The 48 Laws of Power, The 33 Strategies of War, The Art of Seduction, Mastery, The 50th Law – All five by Robert Greene
I needed to include all five books Robert Greene has written, that’s how exceptional of a writer/thinker he is. All five books follow the same basic format: historical figure anecdote followed by analysis and then a distilled life lesson. Each book is divided into 10-48 “laws”, several of which are subdivided further within the chapter. What makes Greene’s so exceptional in all five books is his ability to talk about social, political, and psychological power from a point of view completely devoid of morality. In a culture with an unquestionable Judo-Christian sense of right and wrong this premise is ground-breaking. Cutting, ruthless, pragmatic, and utterly free of bullshit, these books forever saved me from the self-help section of the bookstore (which is stereotypically shallow, fluffy, and more or less worthless). The research is excellent, the “case studies” fascinating, and the writing high-vocabulary yet extremely easy to follow. I’ll need to talk more about these books at another point to do them justice, but for now, buy them, read them, read them again, underline, reflect, read again. In many ways these books were a key to freeing myself from the “positive thinking”, politically correct, fake niceness of the world I grew up in. Not saying I’ve figured life out yet, but these books helped me cut away a lot of useless, masturbatory thought patterns. Again, buy, read, read again.
Author’s individual life philosophies on how to “live the good life” manifested through their book(s):
Dale Carnegie: Maximizing friendliness, agreeableness, understanding, and compassion is the single best skill to being successfully professionally and personally.
Tim Ferris: Fearless, unconventional thinking and a analytical, experimental mental attitude are necessary to take advantage of the opportunities the modern world affords us. Don’t be afraid to question cultural common sense and make yourself a better personal operating system to take advantage of all life has to offer.
Robert Greene: Never lie to yourself about the realities of life, people, and yourself. Embrace the world the way it is without trying to rationalize or sugarcoat reality into something “nicer”. Morals and ideals such as fairness or justice are human inventions, the world is not influenced by such ideals. Politics and power struggles are everywhere there are people and everyone engages in power plays of some sort or another in their day to day lives. Yes, this includes me and you.
Dan Millman: Where you give your attention is where you give your life. Don’t write off low-stimulation moments as worthless, because that’s what most of life consists of. Don’t fall into the illusion of thinking that you’re “all that” hot stuff, you’re human, you’re going to die, you’re not that big a deal in regards to the universe.