I’ve long talked about the merits of reading books; I think it’s on par with sleeping well and exercising in terms of long-term benefits. No matter what else I do in a day, if I wake up rested, work out, and read, I feel like it was a successful day because my future will be brighter.
In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn’t read all the time—none, zero.
Like Charlie Munger, the smartest people I know and the ones who make the best decisions tend to read a lot.
Reading might seem tedious at first, but that’s not really the case if you either enjoy it—in which case it’s a sort of meditation—or you do it to learn. If you think about it, you can pick the brains of the smartest people in the world—both living and dead—and in a matter of hours, acquire all sorts of insights and wisdom that took them their entire lives to accrue. What better use of time could there possibly be?
Reading effectively is a skill—and one I think can be taught. The way I read books is maybe a bit different than most. My general strategy (for non-fiction):
If the book isn’t interesting or incredibly useful, I stop reading. Most books pretty much suck.
I skip sections if I feel like they’re not worthwhile.
When I find a truly paradigm-shifting book, I re-read it often.
I take notes—or at least underline the most important points as I read—so that if I want to refer to the book later, I can do it quickly.
I don’t read books to rack up a total count; I read them to change my worldview. Thus, I read slowly.
When I come across a concept I think could be useful, I stop reading and try to apply it to an area completely unrelated to the book (like antifragility in DFS, for example).
Basically, you have to develop the skill of being able to quickly sort through the crap to find the real gamechangers, then extract the maximum knowledge possible from those few books.
Those mind-altering books will be different for everyone, but since I get asked about my favorite books all the time, I figured it might make sense to compile a shortlist. There are many, many other books that I’ve found influential and worth the time to read, but only a few that have dramatically shifted my worldview.
Note: You might notice most of these books are sort of philosophical in nature—or actual philosophy. One reason is probably just because that’s what I tend to enjoy, but another is that I think the greatest books—at least to me—truly are philosophical in nature. That is, they make you question your most basic beliefs, at least in a specific area, and they work to help you establish a worldview that makes all future problems easier to analyze and solve.
The value of a truly great book extends well beyond the intended topic of that book.
In effect, the best books don’t supply you answers or teach you specific skills, but rather reframe old problems and help you alter the lens through which you see the world so you can improve future thinking and decision-making. With specific skills, my belief is you should probably just do the thing you want to learn. People ask me for my favorite books on game theory all the time, for example, and my answer is none: just play games.
With further ado, these are my favorite books, in no particular order.
All Nietzsche (favorites are Beyond Good and Evil and The Gay Science)
One must shed the bad taste of wanting to agree with many. "Good" is no longer good when one's neighbor mouths it. And how should there be a "common good"! The term contradicts itself: whatever can be common always has little value. In the end it must be as it is and always has been: great things remain for the great, abysses for the profound, nuances and shudders for the refined, and, in brief, all that is rare for the rare.
All Taleb (favorite is Antifragile)
A turkey is fed for 1,000 days by a butcher, and every day confirms to the turkey and the turkey’s economics department and the turkey’s risk management department that the butcher loves turkeys, and every day brings more confidence to the statement. But on day 1,001, there will be a surprise for the turkey.
Tao Te Ching by Laozi
If you understand others you are smart.
If you understand yourself you are illuminated.
If you overcome others you are powerful.
If you overcome yourself you have strength.
If you know how to be satisfied you are rich.
If you can act with vigor, you have a will.
If you don't lose your objectives you can be long-lasting.
If you die without loss, you are eternal.
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
We make the assumption that everyone sees life the way we do. We assume that others think the way we think, feel the way we feel, judge the way we judge, and abuse the way we abuse. This is the biggest assumption that humans make. And this is why we have a fear of being ourselves around others. Because we think everyone else will judge us, victimize us, abuse us, and blame us as we do ourselves. So even before others have a chance to reject us, we have already rejected ourselves. That is the way the human mind works.
Principles by Ray Dalio
Every time you confront something painful, you are at a potentially important juncture in your life—you have the opportunity to choose healthy and painful truth or unhealthy but comfortable delusion.
The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
Real love - this kind of love is emotional in nature but not obsessional. It is a love that unites reason and emotion. It involves an act of the will and requires discipline, and it recognizes the need for personal growth.
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
We usually think of ourselves as sitting the driver's seat, with ultimate control over the decisions we make and the direction our life takes; but, alas, this perception has more to do with our desires—with how we want to view ourselves—than with reality.
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
A heckler once interrupted Nikita Khrushchev in the middle of a speech in which he was denouncing the crimes of Stalin. “You were a colleague of Stalin’s,” the heckler yelled, “why didn’t you stop him then?” Khrushschev apparently could not see the heckler and barked out, “Who said that?” No hand went up. No one moved a muscle. After a few seconds of tense silence, Khrushchev finally said in a quiet voice, “Now you know why I didn’t stop him.” Instead of just arguing that anyone facing Stalin was afraid, knowing that the slightest sign of rebellion would mean certain death, he had made them feel what it was like to face Stalin—had made them feel the paranoia, the fear of speaking up, the terror of confronting the leader, in this case Khrushchev. The demonstration was visceral and no more argument was necessary.
The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin
In the end, mastery involves discovering the most resonant information and integrating it so deeply and fully it disappears and allows us to fly free.
The Almanack of Naval Rakivant by Eric Jorgenson
Wealth is a very positive-sum game. We create things together. We’re starting this endeavor to create this piece of art that explains what we’re doing. At the end of it, something brand new will be created. It’s a positive-sum game. Status, on the other hand, is a zero-sum game. It’s a very old game. We’ve been playing it since monkey tribes. It’s hierarchical. Who’s number one? Who’s number two? Who’s number three? And for number three to move to number two, number two has to move out of that slot.
How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams
If you believe people use reason for the important decisions in life, you will go through life feeling confused and frustrated that others seem to have bad reasoning skills. The reality is that reason is just one of the drivers of our decisions, and often the smallest one.
Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
Persuasion is not about how bright or smooth or forceful you are. It’s about the other party convincing themselves that the solution you want is their own idea. So don’t beat them with logic or brute force. Ask them questions that open paths to your goals. It’s not about you.
Again, there are so many other books that have taught me so much—those like More Than You Know, Atomic Habits, Personal Organization for Degenerates, Ego is the Enemy, Zero to One, Nudge, Loonshots, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, books by physicist Michio Kaku, Quiet, Linchpin, The One Thing, The Success Equation, Ikigai, Total Recall, The Drunkard’s Walk, and more—but the list above represents the shortlist of paradigm-shifting, worldview-changing books for me.
What are the best books I haven’t listed here?