This post is mostly a transcription from a podcast episode I recently recorded. You might want to check it out if you'd prefer to hear an audio version of this post.
I turned 25 a few weeks ago. Although the quarter-life crisis hasn't hit me yet, I can't help but think about the massive impact that books have had in my life.
I used to read a lot when I was younger. I stopped for quite a while there, and only in recent times I've started reading again. The more I read, the more I want to do more of it. I've progressively started reading a lot more books every year. In the past year alone, I've probably read about 60 books, and the year before that, it was only half as many, and the year before that, it was only half as many as well. It's progressively become a much bigger part of my life. In the past three years I've probably only read about 100 books. For the average person in their mid-20s that's probably a lot though. I guess that number in itself is of a list of possibly thousands that I could have read. I've spent a lot of time being really deliberate about what I read, and I do a lot of filtering, so the 100 or so books would have been picked from a large range, and I would have carefully narrowed them down and been very deliberate about it.
Note: These are in the order that I read them, not necessarily in order of impact.
1. The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss (read in Jan 2012, age 20)
At the time when I read this, it was a very pivotal time in my life. I was just in the midst of doing my first corporate internship. I was working for a big consulting firm, and really was starting to hate it. I was sent on a project where I was in a room with no windows and I was just punching lines into Excel to balance superannuation funds. I did that for about five solid weeks, which isn't a long time, all things considered, but long enough to make me realize that I was probably just a little disillusioned with the idea of working 9 to 5 for the rest of my life.
In a nutshell, Tim Ferriss outlines a plan for people to live a life where they can spend roughly four hours a week working, and the rest of the time doing what else they want to do in life. Although I don't know if I necessarily agree with everything in the book, especially since I haven't read it in a number of years, and at this point there might be a lot of things I disagree with now. He presents this idea that life is short, and opposed to having this deferred life plan where you spend 40 years working and then you retire with the rest of your life, it's a lot smarter when you are young and you have the vibrance and health to do these ideas called mini-retirements. A mini-retirement is where, perhaps, for like a month you'll go and go off, pursue a project you want to do. You'll go and travel and whatnot. He sort of proposes that idea and a life of working online, not necessarily working for the man, and showing you how you can work towards independence.
At the time, that idea was huge. It was massive for me. I think I had just turned 20, so this is going back now quite a few years. I haven't read it in quite a while, but for young people that haven't read it, I still think it's worth picking up. It's a good mindset shift book.
2. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (read in Apr 2014, age 22)
This book was great when I read it, because I had yet to realize just how deep the field of psychology really is. The understanding that you can learn more about the human mind, and realize that it's actually often fooling us. This is probably one of the few books where I realized that, "Oh, hey, my mind actually does sneaky things to me, and makes me make decisions that I wouldn't make if I was thinking logically and rationally about this. Oh my goodness." The book basically talks about how human beings have cognitive biases, so the fact that the way that things are presented on a page makes us think a certain way, and specifically in this book, Dr. Kahneman talks about the two types of thinking. There's what he calls system 1 and system 2. System 1 is really fast, and quick, and makes rapid intuitive decisions. Then, there's system 2, which is a lot slower and really thinks deeply about things, and that's sort of how you make the bigger kinds of decisions that you can't make in a snap, so to speak.
He sort of presents ways to swap yourself into different modes of thinking when the situation calls for it, and just points out really interesting things that human beings do. For an example, when there's a chance for you to potentially lose money, human beings would much rather gamble, take the chance of losing a big amount of money, opposed to being guaranteed to lose a small amount. Whereas when it comes to gaining money, we do the opposite. We would much rather take the sure thing than gamble for a big win, which doesn't really make sense. You'd expect us to act the same way, but we don't, for example. He presents the whole book of these, and it's just really fascinating. This, I guess, fueled my further interest with wanting to understand just how humans think. It's a good one.
3. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl (read in Apr 2014, age 22)
Viktor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor, and so he went to a concentration camp, saw a lot of people get killed, and happened to come out the other side. As you can imagine, being thrown into a situation like that, the very common reaction is, "Woe is me. Life sucks. This is all meaningless, and pointless. I can't believe this has happened to me." He sort of turned that all on its head, and realized that there is meaning in suffering, that no matter what we have taken away from us, we always get to choose how to act. Basically, when it came to the people in the concentration camp, those who survived and those who didn't, more often than not, circumstances permitting, were those who still believed. Those who gave up hope generally didn't have the strength to pull through.
I think the book is a powerful one because as human beings, we talk a lot about, "What's the meaning of life? What's this all about?" Basically, the point he makes is that we shouldn't think of it like that. We shouldn't be asking of life, like, "Oh, what are you all about?" Life asks that of us. There's a quote from the book I have to read to you. It says, "Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, every man is questioned by life, and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life. To life, he can only respond by being responsible." I just think that's so powerful. I think that it's just really empowering to know that you get to decide what life means to you. We're constantly being questioned, and we get to decide through our actions.
There's one other quote that I really enjoyed: "Those who have a why to live can bear with almost any how." That's huge. I think there's so much truth just in that sentence alone, especially coming from him, who had to bear a massive "how," but just had a convincing enough "why" to live. I think he wanted to see his family again.
4. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (read in Sep 2014, age 23)
I love this book. I'll give it to you in one sentence. I like the way that the Farnam Street blog pitches this book: "It is a simple and powerful guide to life." Meditations is a book of what's called stoic philosophy and one of the big, I guess, maybe not founders, but one of the big disciples of stoicism is a man called Marcus Aurelius. He actually happened to be the emperor of Rome. Meditations are his personal diaries that were never intended to be published. They were written to himself during battles and whatnot, and whilst he was waging a war. This, actually, is a diary of what, at the time, was the most powerful human being on earth. It's incredible how his sort of daily challenges are similar to ours. He had lots of trivial things happen to him, like dealing with annoying people, that we have happen to us all the time. The fact that it's so relatable, I think, is just incredible.
It's funny that I happened to read this not long after Man's Search for Meaning because they're related. Stoicism at its core is the idea that you always get to control how you react to things regardless of your external circumstances. You're always in control. Awful things can happen to you in life, but you can choose to just acknowledge that that's a part of life, that better things are on their way, and you can basically deal with it, or you can be a big sulk. Being a big sulk often doesn't fix it. It's just accepting it, moving on. I think what's powerful about this book as well is that stoicism is not just this idea of when bad things happen to you, "Oh, it's not that bad." It's actually going a step beyond that and going, "Not only is this not bad, but something great can come out of this." It's phenomenal how Marcus Aurelius and the stoics just grab life by the horns and they can turn obstacles into achievements.
The book is excellent. It's full of little quips of wisdom. It's really approachable. Philosophy in itself can be kind of dry, but this is not. This is very readable. There's a particular translation you want to get, it's the Hayes translation that's linked above. That's the one you want. I have Ryan Holiday for introducing me to this book on his blog. It's definitely a powerful read.
5. So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport (read in Jun 2015, age 23)
This book is a funny one in a sense, because I feel that it sort of explained, or at least validated some of my life decisions after I started reading it. It would be nice to profess that, "I read this and I instantly changed everything I did about my life." But actually, I read this and I was like, "Oh, cool. Maybe I've already done some of this stuff. I can keep going with it." So Good They Can't Ignore You is basically the idea that skills trump passion when it comes to looking for work you love. The idea that, "Follow your passion and that's how you'll be happy," is kind of old, outdated idea that doesn't work. A lot of people pursue what they're passionate about. They can't get employed. They live unhappily for most of their lives.
This definitely has its exceptions, and I still think that passion has its place in the world, but his contention is instead: what you should do is get really good at something, like a skill that is valuable in the marketplace, and then you should use that to leverage it into work that's really attractive. That way you'll have the chance to hopefully work autonomously, and you'll have the chance to be responsible for things, and you might be able to then, with those skills you have, to go with your spare time, or to leverage your interests into doing work that's sort of more up your alley. I think it's such a powerful idea. I know for a fact that even the fact that I can make this podcast now, the fact that it's like 12:30pm on a Thursday and I'm just at home chilling, recording right now, is entirely based on the fact that I went to work in the United States, I learned how to become a web developer, and those skills are so powerful that I can leverage them to do freelance work, work from anywhere, work at attractive rate.
Basically, if I were to have perhaps left university, wanted to become a podcaster, and had no other skills and no way to make money, we may not be where we are now. So, take, for example, learning programming. It's a skill that's very useful in the current marketplace. For a lot of people, it's seen as highly desirable, and the thing is, I'll be honest with you guys: I don't necessarily love programming. Programming can be fun when I do it for myself. When I do it for other people, it's not always as fun, but it pays the bills. It pays pretty well, and that's enough for me, because I can do the work I need to do, and I can leverage the free time I have to pursue things that I'm much more interested in. This book, I think, is just really good at sort of challenging our current conventions as to what it means to pursue work that's great.
The book itself has so many excellent suggestions about becoming better at developing skills. It talks about the idea of deliberate practice, sort of straining yourself to work just beyond your comfort zone, and plenty of other good things. It's good for thinking about mission development, and what your calling is. Worth a read.
6. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (read in Jun 2015, age 23)
This is a controversial one, mostly because a lot of people don't like Ayn Rand's philosophies and think that reading a book like this at such a young age is very dangerous. There are some quotes I've had thrown around about how reading a book like this can make you live a life of fantasy. That aside, let me tell you what it is so you can decide for yourself. I think it's important to read this with an open mind, but just to have some caution. Ayn Rand, in some ways, some people would call her a philosopher. Other people would disagree with that title. The book basically is a novel. This is actually the only fiction book on this list, and it's a very important one because Ayn Rand had this philosophy that in a sense, is a very selfish philosophy. It's the idea that man's pursuit through life is fulfilled by his ability to work hard, and that production is his means of getting an edge in the world. It's sort of the idea that you look after yourself first before you can look out for others.
Atlas Shrugged, as a book, is written as a novel that basically presents a number of industrialists, people that are building railroads, people that are designing new sort of metals to use in producing a railroad track, and the first two-thirds of this book are really captivating. It's actually a really thrilling novel. I really liked reading it. It's a big book. It's like 1,000 pages, but the last third is a little bit more dry. There's a big sort of monologue from one of the characters. The book is captivating, and throughout the story, you sort of realize that these industrialists, they've sort of been able to propel society forwards because they've been selfishly incentivized to do so. The idea that an entrepreneur who has an equity stake in a business gets to cash out so well if that business is ever sold, or the stocks are floated, in a sense, they need to be compensated for the risk they've taken like taking out a big loan, starting things from scratch, and also, we have entrepreneurs, for example, to thank for the majority of jobs in this world. The fact that someone went out, started something from nothing, and now can hire a bunch of people, that's worth compensating them extra for. If they hadn't been selfishly incentivized to do so, it probably wouldn't have happened.
The book is a huge, huge, huge compelling case for capitalism. The idea that people sort of have a fair exchange of value to get what they want in life is one that seems to work pretty well. I'm not, like, super capitalist though. I live in what I consider a pretty socialist state. I live in Australia. We have universal Medicare and whatnot, and I think that's great. I think there's a spectrum, and I think one that's super capitalist like the United States has some flaws, but the book is one that helped me realize that the world is all about incentives. When it comes to trying to convince someone else to do something, I think it's nice to think that certain people will help you just out of the kindness of their heart. I think that I probably have friends who would do that, but I think it's also important to sort of just keep in the back of your mind, "How could I selfishly incentivize this person to do this? What's in it for them?" I think that's important. I think the world is built on incentives, and I think the way most people live, whether they like to acknowledge or not, subconsciously they're thinking, what's in it for them?
Ultimate summary is, I think as a young person, it helps you realize the idea of fair exchanges of value in the world, helps you understand how incentives work. I think it's an enjoyable book to read, especially the first two-thirds. Ideally, don't become a self-centered, selfish douche after reading it, then you're fine. It's a book that you take in, and just hopefully it helps you calibrate your spectrum of how you choose to live.
7. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams (read in Oct 2015, age 24)
This is one of my favorite books of all time. I originally heard about this book because Scott Adams, who for those of you who have ever heard of a comic called Dilbert, it's a really popular business comic that's been around for, like, 20 years now and Scott Adams is the illustrator. He was on an interview with the Tim Ferriss podcast and I had heard of Scott Adams before but I never really heard him speak much. He's actually a really interesting dude. The guy has a background as, like, a trained hypnotist. He understands persuasion very well. He's run a number of businesses in his lifetime, but most of them have failed. In reality, it's mostly Dilbert that has been his claim to fame. He just has some really interesting approaches to life. He's got some great philosophies and thoughts on diet, exercise, and happiness. When I read this book it was just so full of valuable tidbits, and nuggets of just pure wisdom.
It's autobiographical in nature, so interspersed with these different topics, Scott Adams also gives his own story, and you know what: he's a badass. Let me just say that. He's a badass. The guy had this voice condition where he couldn't talk properly. I think it's called spasmodic dysphonia. He goes to the doctor. It takes them forever to diagnose it, because people don't know what it is. It's very rare. They finally figure out what it is, and the doc goes to him, "This has never been cured before. You're stuck with this. We could try surgery, but you're stuck with this." Scott Adams goes, "Okay, cool. I'm just going to be the first person ever in the world to be cured of this disease. Not a big deal." That thinking, that drive, I think is phenomenal. That belief. The book covers persuasion, routine, skills, happiness, diet, and a bunch of other useful topics. It was honestly, it was by far the best book I read last year. I've given this book out to people before. I think it's great. I think it's totally worth reading.
8. How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (read in Apr 2016, age 24)
This book is an absolute classic. I tell you what though, people will shit on this book all the time, because the name is kind of wanky. Dale Carnegie's work was a business writer from, like, last century. The book is about 80 years old. It says a lot that the book has been a bestseller for, like, 80 years. It's a book that ideally helps you have better connections with other people. One of the tips is remembering people's names. Sometimes people can take this Dale Carnegie stuff and go way over the top with it, and overdo it. You could find people who you know they've just read a Dale Carnegie course, because in every moment they're like, "Oh, Fab, that's a really great insight. Fab, what do you think about this? You know, Fab, I've really enjoyed listening to that. What do you think, Fab?" I think that you can totally go way overboard with this stuff, but there's so much insight in here. It's no surprise this has been a bestseller for 80 years.
I had this book on my shelf for over four years. A number of people have read it and talked about it all the time. I finally chose to read it, and the reason that this has been such an iconic book for such a long time is because society may have drastically changed, but human beings haven't. Don't judge the book on the title. It might sound like a gimmicky infomercial, but the persuasion techniques in here are very practical, and I think that the important part is, it's not like a manipulation book. It's a book that will only work if you are truly sincere. If you truly care about understanding more about other people, listening to them, trying to work in their best interests. I think you'll get a lot out of this book because you'll legitimately start caring about the thoughts and feelings of other people, and that will help you have deeper and better connections, both in life and in business. If you're young, you're driven, honestly I think it's an essential read.
That's it. That's my eight books. Those are eight books that I've read in my 25 years of life and I would recommend that every young, driven person read them. They have been huge for me and I hope that they are just as big for you too.
If you enjoyed this or have book recommendations then please tweet me. I'd also like to know, which books would have made your list? What are the books that had a big impact on you at a young age?