Life Changing Books – The Best Non-Fiction

Despite the joy I derived from reading as a child, between starting my A levels and 2010, I read very few books.  Uni and law school were four years of stress – juggling studies, work, debt, a drinking problem, and homelessness. It wasn’t a happy time. Afterwards, I worked in a law firm, and was regularly exhausted by the long working hours and all nighters.  I could barely stay awake on my way home – if it wasn’t work related, I wasn’t going to be reading it.

I left private practice and finished working crazy hours on a regular basis in 2009.  If I recall correctly, it was 23 December, and I finished sometime after midnight.

A few weeks later, during a trip to Oz, I realised what I a mess I was in.  I hadn’t exercised for a long time, my body was a disaster, my diet was worse, I was drinking heavily, struggling with chest pains, and convinced that I had cancer.  I didn’t have a job to go to, and wasn’t sure what I wanted.  On my usual Sydney stop over, on a flight back from Oz for a friend’s wedding, my good friend Breenie showed me a new book she had recently picked up.  I glanced through it, and knew I had to buy it. I ordered it from Amazon as soon as I got back, and read it in a few days.  My life had changed.  I quickly ordered a few other books which was recommended. I realised how much I missed reading, and how much I had been missing out on.  These books were so useful! I started implementing a lot of what I was reading, and my life started changing for the better.

Here are some of the life changing books I find myself regularly recommending:

1. The Four Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss

This was the seminal book that the Breen introduced me to. It taught me how life didn’t have to be lived in a certain way. This isn’t a book about working four hours a week, it’s about living a meaningful life and how to boost your productivity so that you can spend time doing the things that make your life matter. Tim’s The 4-Hour Body: An uncommon guide to rapid fat-loss, incredible sex and becoming superhuman and The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life are also excellent; as is his blog.

2. The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwarz

This is a simple book which shows you how to think right, how to deal with setbacks, how to set goals. It taught me the importance of having the right attitudes and how to cultivate them.

3. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
4. On the Shortness of Life by Seneca 
5. The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage by Ryan Holiday

Don’t be scared by these books. I managed to board a plane for a ten day trip to Greece having only packed Meditations (by accident…).  I was horrified – no way was a dry looking philosophy book going to be an enjoyable read! How wrong could I have been! That was one of the best things that happened to me! These books are easy to read, entertaining, and full of wisdom. These philosophers knew what it was all about – read them!

The Obstacle is the Way is a great book that will summarise the concepts set out in the other two books. I read it last year and have already returned to it a few times for advice.

6. A Complaint Free World: The 21-day Challenge That Will Change Your Life by Will Bowen

We are constantly surrounded by negativity, and people complaining about things which are not worth complaining about.  After reading this book, I managed to not complain or be negative about anything for 5 days, (woo hoo!).  It was hard (I know…it was only 5 days…) but I felt like I was walking on air! I highly recommend reading this book. Cutting out complaining will change your life!

7. Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts

Anyone who wants to travel for more than two weeks at a time should read this book. It’s a short read that contains all you need to know about travelling the world.

8. Man’s Search For Meaning: The Classic Tribute to Hope from the Holocaust by Victor Frankl

I put off reading this book despite having seen lots of people recommend it. Mostly because I was convinced it would be a depressing read.  Some parts are difficult to read, but it’s essentially an inspiring story of hope and survival. Everyone should read this book!

9. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
10. The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? by Seth Godin

These are must reads for anyone who wants to create anything, or do anything important with their lives.

If you want to be inspired to write anything, then check out the invaluable Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life by Ann Lamott.

I also liked Seth’s Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? How to Drive Your Career and Create a Remarkable FuturePoke the Box, and Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable.

11. How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton Christensen

This is mostly a business book which was written in the wake of Clayton being diagnosed with cancer, causing him to reflect on his own life. He talks through the mistakes he’s made and the value of avoiding them.  As the years roll on, I’m realising how important this book is for me.

12. Choose Yourself! by James Altucher

This is a short read that will show you how take care of yourself, and have a better life in a world where the demand for conventional employees is changing. James’ blog and podcast are also worth checking out.

13. The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

This book shows you how the market for employees has now changed, and how best to take advantage of the opportunities that this change presents us with.  It gives you practical techniques  that anyone can use to survive in the new world.  If you’re an employee it’s a must read. There’s also a useful visual summary of what the book’s about here.

14. The Art of Non Conformity by Chris Guillebeau
15. The Monk and the Riddle: The Art of Creating a Life While Making a Living by Randy Komisar

Too many people are convinced that their lives have to be a certain way. If you’ve ever dreamt of things being different, of living a fulfilling life, then these books are for you. I particularly loved, the The Monk and the Riddle. Maybe I over-identified with the author, (who was also a lawyer), but after reading that book on a flight from Australia to Chile, I vowed that my life had to change. It was really powerful.

16. The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck

We all have psychological issues and this book addresses lots of them. This book was an eye opener for me, and an extremely useful read. A lot of people would benefit from reading this book, and the world would certainly be a better place if more people read it.

Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood was also good, although a bit more frightening and not as relevant in some ways.

17. The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence by Josh Waitzkin

If you’re interested in learning anything, then this book is worth reading. It shows the principles that Josh has used, and talks you through his achievements and how they came about.  If you’re not sure whether this book would interest you, listen to Josh’s interview on the Tim Ferriss podcast, it’s worth listening to in its own right anyway.

18. The Power of A Positive No by William Ury

I’ve always had a problem saying no to everyone – friends/family/colleagues/sales people. This book shows you the value of saying no and gives you the techniques you need to be able to say no to others but yes to yourself (love it!).

19. Fluent in 3 Months by Benny Lewis

If you want to learn any language, then this book is highly recommended. It gives you the techniques and impetus to start speaking the language you want from day one – which is what learning a language is all about isn’t it? Benny’s website and free videos are also worth checking out, as is signing up to the one week language hacking kickstarter.

20. I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi

Ignore the wanky title. This isn’t a book about how to become a millionaire.  It’s a really useful book about managing your money, paying your debt, increasing your credit rating, and investing your money wisely.  It is an awesome book and entertaining to read – not something you expect from a personal finance book!  I just wish I had read it 10 years ago – it would have saved me a lot of pain! Ramit’s website is also worth checking out.

21. The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker

Every woman should read this book.  The intro, and maybe the first chapter, are scary to read, but it gets easier after that. It’s really interesting and I feel safer for having read it. Even if you’re a man, read it, and buy it for your ladies, it might save their lives one day.

OTHER BOOKS I RECOMMEND

A. Better Ways of Working

The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance by Tony Schwartz; Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink; and ReWork: Change the Way You Work Forever.  Read these for alternative and more efficient approaches to work.

B. Breaking Bad Habits and Creating New Ones

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change by Charles Duhigg; and Switch: How to change things when change is hard by Chip and Dan Heath are useful books when it comes to understanding how habits are formed and broken. The Lift app is also worth checking out if you’re trying to form any new habits.

C. Inspiring Life Stories

I’ve learnt a lot from reading autobiographies.  My favourites so far are the Autobiography of Malcolm X; Ordinary Man: The True Story Behind Hotel Rwanda by Paul Rusesabagina; Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer; Mud, Sweat and Tears by Bear Grylls; Into Thin Air: A personal account of the Everest disaster by Jon Krakauer; Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan; Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson; Life by Keith Richards (a must read if you’re a Rolling Stones fan, but still entertaining even if you’re not); and Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (not my usual choice, but a brilliant book).

D. Self Development:

If you want to improve your life in any way, whether in your decision making, figuring out what you want, and how to get there, then the following books are worth looking into.

Tony Robbins’ Awaken The Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Life and Unlimited Power: The New Science of Personal Achievement. Both are good although I lack the patience to work through the NLP stuff, (often found in the middle of his books).

Want to Stop Worrying And Start Living or improve your inter-personal skills then read Dale Carnegie.

Brian Tracy’s Maximum Achievement and Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (25th Anniversary Edition) are great for helping you prioritse and focus on the important thing.

There are a lot of good time management books out there, I finally got it, after reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done: How to achieve stress-free productivity.

E. Business

Instant MBA: Think, perform and earn like a top business-school graduate by Nicholas Bate and The Personal MBA: A World-Class Business Education in a Single Volume by Josh Kaufman are both worth reading for an overview of basic business principles.

F. Marketing

Noah Kagan and Andrew Chen’s blogs are great resources when it comes to marketing.

Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion by Anthony Partkanis and Eliot Aronson is a fascinating book about the power of the media, and how people are influenced by what they read and see.

Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing and Advertising by Ryan Holidayand Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World by Gary Vaynerchuck are useful reads about marketing in the twenty first century.

G. Relationships

Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur by Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor. This is not just a book for entrepreneurs, it applies to any relationship. I’ve definitely benefited from reading it, and I know lots of people who would too!

H. Is for Happiness

Many people see happiness as a selfish or unattainable thing to aspire towards.

I’m a pretty happy and positive person now, but that hasn’t always been the case. I struggled with unhappiness as a child, and later at uni, and law school because of the situations I found myself in.  Apart from one bad period in my late twenties (partly related to being in jobs that I was deeply unhappy in), I’m lucky that I’ve been able to transform a lot of the attitudes and mindsets that made me feel that way.

The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by the Dalai Lamaa (especially the first half), and the The Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom to the Test of Modern Science by Jonathan Haidt are two interesting books about the importance of happiness and ways that we can achieve it.

I’m always on the look out for book recommendations.  If you have any books that have had a powerful impact on your life, I would love to hear from you.

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