In 2015 I started a quest to start reading. The goal is 500 books. This page is where I list books as I finish them, with a short review of my thoughts and things I learned. Hopefully this list will motivate you to join me in this journey to learn more about our world!
If you have book recommendations, I'd love to hear them. You can reach me on Twitter or through my Contact page.
The One Thing by Gary Keller
“If everyone has the same number of hours in the day, why do some people seem to get so much more done than others? How do they do more, achieve more, earn more, have more? If time is the currency of achievement, then why are some able to cash in their allotment for more chips than others?”
The One Thing is a book about simplicity. The premise is that doing less is actually more effective than doing more, and will allow to reach “success” much faster. Most people believe that to excel you should be busy and trying to do as much as possible. Keller explores the idea that if you instead just focus on doing one single thing really well every day, and forget about the rest, will bring you far superior results. I don’t think he needed an entire book about the idea (evident in the way he’s fleshed out the pages with stuff about living a meaningful life, following your passions etc), but still a great read overall.
The Complete Guide To Fasting by Jason Fung
“We are wired for feast and famine, not feast, feast, feast.”
I was introduced to the idea of fasting a few years ago, and after a few health nuts I follow on Instagram have been advocating for it a lot more decided to learn more about it. I did a 10 day juice fast early in 2018, and a 6 day water fast a few months later. I found it hugely beneficial, but decided I better learn how to do it properly before trying anything more extreme.
The book was a lot more insightful than I expected. Jason Fung is a doctor who specialises in diabetes treatment, and found the status quo treatment of diet and insulin was ineffective. People simply couldn’t follow the protocol, they would stop eating one bad food and start eating another. That’s when he had the bright idea; what if they just ate nothing?
Packed with science and studies, Fung explains in the book how regular fasting has been more effective than any other diabetes treatment he’s prescribed and has even completely reversed type 2 Diabetes in many patients. And it’s the most simple treatment in the world – eat nothing – as well as the cheapest treatment possible – it’s free. Lots of good information on best practices for fasting too. A good book for anyone looking to add another weapon of health to their diet, or anyone struggling with diabetes.
Mansa Musa & The Empire Of Mali by P. James Oliver
“You’re writing a book about Mansa Musa? I didn’t know anyone in America knew who he was. He was our Lincoln!”
Mansa Musa was an African leader who took Mali from relatively unknown to one of the richest empires in the world in the 1300’s. It was during his reign that Timbuktu become known as one of the world’s great cities, that Mali amassed a gold fortune so great that the quality life rivalled anything found in Europe at the time, and that traders from all over the world came to Mali to buy Malian gold. Based on the ancient writings of scholars in Timbuktu, many historians believe he could have been the richest human ever, with a gold fortune of about half a trillion dollars in today’s money.
This book is a recollection of Mansa Musa’s rule, much of it focuses on his famous pilgrimmage to Saudi Arabia, where he gave away so much gold in Cairo that he unintentionally depressed the price of gold for over a decade. Respect is paid to the many cultural quirks of Mali at the time, which is a testament to the care that has been put into the historical accuracy of the times. Great book as an introduction to pre-colonial African history.
David And Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
“Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.”
The book starts out really interestingly. Gladwell dissects the tale of David and Goliath, and explains why David wasn’t that much of an underdog after all. According to Gladwell, slingers, such as David, were instrumental to military success, and the good ones were absolutely lethal. The idea that David – an accomplished slinger – was an underdog to Goliath – a heavy swordsman – is simply untrue. Slingers, with the ability to combat from a distance, beat swordsman all the time.
Using this story as a foundation, he goes on to explore how other underdogs somehow managed to overcome the odds and “slay giants”. However, I feel like Gladwell reaches too far for many of his points. He dissects accounts of various people who have overcome the odds, such as the doctor who found a cure of child leukemia after suffering a traumatic childhood, or the dyslexic banker who took a chance and ended up the president of Goldman Sachs, but many of them feel like exceptions to the rule. It’s probably my least favourite book of Gladwell’s (I’ve read them all, Outliers is my favourite), but that’s not saying much for a Gladwell book – all of them are excellent!
Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper
“One of the things that’s most fascinating about Bitcoin, I have learned, is that it entrances fanatical conspiracy theorists, clear-eyed pragmatists, and diehard skeptics alike.”
When you ask yourself the question “What is Bitcoin?” you’re really asking the wrong thing. Instead you should be asking who invented it, why they invented it, what it’s supposed to do, where it came from. This book is a historical account of the invention of Bitcoin and answers all those questions in more detail you could have asked for.
I don’t know how long this guy took to write this book, but it must have been a long time. The amount of research required to write this would have been staggering. Everything from the very invention of Bitcoin by Satoshi Nakomoto to the madness it is today has been chronicled with meticulous accuracy, with each character described in such detail, I even remember watching the documentary “Banking on Bitcoin” later and thinking, wow, that’s exactly what I pictured that guy looking like.
Required reading for anyone invested or thinking about investing in Bitcoin.
“There are 2 billion people who have no bank accounts at all. There are another 4 billion people who have very limited access to banking. Banking without international currencies, banking without international markets, banking without liquidity. Bitcoin isn’t about the 1 billion. Bitcoin is all about the other 6 1/2. The people who are currently cut off from international banking. What do you think happens when you suddenly are able to turn a simple text-messaging phone in the middle of a rural area in Nigeria, connected to a solar panel, into a bank terminal? Into a Western Union remittance terminal? Into an international loan-origination system? A stock market? An IPO engine? At first, nothing, but give it a few years.”
When I first started trying to learn about Bitcoin, this was the book that always came up. I put it off for a few months, but when I finally read it, it blew my mind. It was one of those books that you just finish so quickly, because you read it every free moment you have.
I later learned more about the author, who was just a total nerd and had dedicated almost a decade to trying to understand this new technology (the same way he’d done with email and the internet 20 years prior). In this 2-book series, he explains what Bitcoin is, why we need it, and all the different ways it can change the world. It was interesting to see that much of the content in the book was from 2012-2014, and when I read it in 2018 some of his predictions had already come true. Really fun and easy read as well, perfect for the layman. If you know nothing about Bitcoin and would like to start learning, this is the first book you should read.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
“You loved so hard and hoped so much and then you ended up with nothing. Children who no longer needed you. A husband who no longer wanted you. Nothing left but you, alone, and empty space.”
After reading The Kite Runner, I was suddenly a lot more open to giving fiction books a chance.
This is a story about a Chinese American family trying to make sense of a death in the family. They are unsure whether it was a suicide, or a murder, or an accident. However, like all good stories, the book isn’t really about the death, but more about the family and the characters, how their lives fit together and how they all think they know each other but they really don’t. The writing was very unique, not like many stories I’ve read before. If you appreciate good story telling you will really love this one.
Into The River by Ted Dawe
Into The River is a story by New Zealand author Ted Dawe. The book follows a young Maori boy from rural New Zealand who is awarded a scholarship to a prestigious school in the big city. While there he discovers a new life and is constantly pulled between his Maori roots and fitting in with his new environment, mostly filled with students from rich, white families. There’s a lot in this book – sex, sexual orientation, drugs, fighting, and how teenagers manage to deal with it in their own unique ways. A Christian organisation actually got the book banned in New Zealand for a few months before it got overturned. That’s how I heard about it.
As a New Zealander I enjoyed the book as it touched on a lot of the cultural quirks about our country. If you’re visiting New Zealand it might be an interesting book to read too!
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
“It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime…”
I was recommended this book by several people, but nothing prepared me for the story when I finally sat down to read it. I don’t want to share too much as to not spoil the amazing story, but the basic setting of the book is two young boys growing up in pre-Taliban Afghanistan. It’s an amazing tale of friendship and loyalty and I think everyone should read it.
What I loved most about the book was it showed me how powerful fiction can be and how much we can learn from it. I saw Afghanistan in a completely different light which has also influenced my view of other people and countries. One of my all time favourites.
The Complete Turtle Trader by Michael Covel
“Give me a dozen healthy infants and my own specific world to
bring them up in, and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random
and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—
doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant, chef and yes, even beggar and
thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities,
vocations, and race of his ancestors.”
I was always a big enthusiast in markets and trading ever since my accounting days, so when I heard about the Turtle Traders I knew I needed to know more. The book is a true story about a Wall Street hot shot named Richard Dennis. Worth billions at his peak, he believed that trading was so simple that anyone could do it with the right techniques. He made a bet with his partner and then put out an ad in the newspaper and offered to teach anyone to trade, and even offer them a job trading at his firm. The handful of people he selected were from all walks of life and became known as “the turtles”. Many of them ending up making fortunes, starting their own trading firms and are still multi-millionaires today. The book doesn’t teach you the exact turtle technique, but does give some snippets of it. It does however include detailed stories of the turtles and where they ended up, which is fascinating in itself. Great read for any investing junkies out there.
Originals by Adam Grant
“Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new.”
The blurb of this book detailed how the real changes in our world came from “Originals” – people who rejected the norm and weren’t afraid to go against the crowd. I loved the opening chapters but it started to get quite slow through the middle. I struggled through much of it to be honest. The general message is that changing the world doesn’t happen through hard work or intelligence. It only happens when the norm is challenged and that requires creativity and doing something new. Seems to get a lot of good reviews, so give it a shot and see if you like it better than I did.
An African In Greenland by Tete-Michel Kpomassie
As a traveller this memoir will absolutely touch your heart. Tete-Michel is a boy from Togo who finds a book about Greenland in a second hand bookstore. Immediately he decides that he needs to go there. Over many years he journeys through Africa, relying on the kindness of strangers, up to France and Denmark and finally manages to board a boat to Greenland. Once there, he is obviously a huge novelty and is accepted with open arms into the Inuit life. The book is full of interesting descriptions of the Inuit life – everything from wife sharing to seal hunting to cross country sledding through snowstorms and all kinds of wild things. If I ever visit Greeland this book will certainly have been the inspiration.
I’m surprised this book is not more popular like On The Road by Kerouac. For some reason it’s impossible to find (I had to order it online from a second hand book store). But definitely hunt down a copy because it’s beautifully written – Tete-Michel is for sure one of the original globetrotting backpackers and the story is beyond inspirational.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
“You’re not required to save the world with your creativity. Your art not only doesn’t have to be original, in other words, it also doesn’t have to be important. For example, whenever anyone tells me that they want to write a book in order to help other people I always think ‘Oh, please don’t. Please don’t try to help me.’ I mean it’s very kind of you to help people, but please don’t make it your sole creative motive because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls.”
I found this book hugely valuable. As a creative it can be extremely unnerving to release your work to the world – it is like that feeling of giving a speech at high school, except now you’re speaking to the whole world. Liz Gilbert teaches us how to transmute this fear into something powerful and productive, and shows us how to embrace our individuality to create magic from nothing. Must read for all the artists out there.
My Booky Wook by Russell Brand
“To this day, I feel a fierce warmth for women that have the same disregard for the social conventions of sexual protocol as I do. I love it when I meet a woman and her sexuality is dancing across her face, so it’s apparent that all we need to do is nod and find a cupboard.”
I’m a huge Russell Brand fan, but more so of the new, evolved, socially conscious Russell Brand.
In this memoir I learned how much he has changed and actually what a wild child he was in the beginning. Drug addiction, sex addiction, prostitutes, everything. Of course I don’t demonise him for any of that – every man finds his path in his own way – but it was interesting to learn of his past despite him being wildly talented at his craft.
When you listen to Brand today, he comes across as incredibly articulate, kind-hearted and intelligent, so understanding the transformation behind the man, if you’re a fan, is both revealing and inspiring. Loved it.
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
I was never a huge fan of Aziz (he’s a stand up comic) but I found the premise of the book intriguing. As someone who has experienced both pre-internet and post-internet, and also in various different countries, I figured this book would have some interesting insights I could relate to and benefit from. When it finally went on sale for a few dollars I picked it up.
What I found interesting about the book was how deep the research was. This wasn’t just based on his own experiences, he’d run focus groups and studies all over the world and really investigated the culture of dating between different races, ages, sexes etc.
The insights on online dating were interesting and fell in line with many of my own experiences, and he had some interesting discoveries on how different countries viewed love and how that had changed over time. Good book for anyone who is single or just interested in relationship dynamics.
Choose Yourself by James Altucher
“Forget purpose. It’s okay to be happy without one. The quest for a single purpose has ruined many lives.”
Choose Yourself is an important book.
James Altucher is a guy who has done it all – made millions, lost millions, been happy, been sad, overcome the odds and everything else that comes with being “successful”. In Choose Yourself he lays out the real path to success, which is to stop relying on your boss for promotions, corporations for jobs, the government for help and to forge your own path by focusing on yourself.
There are lots of great case studies and examples, many of them from James’ own life, where he demonstrates what it means to “Choose Yourself” and control your own destiny in the age of the internet and the 21st century. Highly recommended for everyone, but especially the younger college-aged crowd.
More importantly, this book was written for you. In fact when the book came out, Altucher put out an offer that you needed to buy the book, but once you’d finished reading it you could email him and he would refund your money. There was a message in here he wanted everyone to hear. It wasn’t about money.
The Thank You Economy by Gary Vee
Gary Vee is all over social media and is known as the king of the grind-it-out, get-up-early, work-really-hard crowd.
One of Gary Vee’s big things is how businesses (and anyone) can use social media to accelerate results and change the way people do business and interact. In the Thank You Economy, he breaks down a new approach of building relationships with customers, which is about being accessible to customers and engaging with them directly. He has lots of examples of companies building loyal followings by appreciating customers through various social media campaigns, and why this channel of business-consumer relations is the way of the future.
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
“I’d tell men and women in their midtwenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.”
Phil Knight is the founder of Nike, who has been notoriously withdrawn from the public eye (I bet you’ve never even heard of him, despite being one of the richest people in the world and founder of one of the world’s most recognisable brands).
This memoir explores his beginnings, selling shoes out of the trunk of his car, to banding together with a loyal team to hustle hustle hustle, to finally listing and becoming a millionaire, to eventually taking over the world of fashion.
Lots of good lessons in this book, such as the value of friendship, trust, loyalty, determination, and most importantly, doing what you love. Awesome read.
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
“Anyone who has ever scanned the bookshelves of a new girlfriend or boyfriend- or peeked inside his or her medicine cabinet- understands this implicitly; you can learn as much – or more – from one glance at a private space as you can from hours of exposure to a public face.”
Gladwell explores our instincts in this book, wondering how we make such elaborate conclusions about people in a split second. For example, he explores studies that show how people can see a tall or handsome man and immediately conclude he is wealthy or successful or kind. Obviously these instincts are flawed, so Gladwell breaks down the reasons behind this behaviour and what we can do to harness the power of our instincts better.
I’m a big fan of Gladwell but this one was just okay. Still an interesting read though.
Made To Stick by Dan & Chip Heath
This is a marketing book but I think everyone would find it fascinating and could benefit from reading it.
Dan & Chip Heath explore the reasons why some ideas and stories stick (such as the boy who cried wolf or the story of the sour grapes) and why others fall into obscurity. Obviously it has nothing to do with money or corporations, as many stories have survived thousands of years just by word of mouth, and are still talked about today.
I found the book so insightful I actually gave away a few copies on my newsletter that month. Highly recommended.
Pin Action by Gianmarc Manzione
“It was a part of town on Route 1 in south Jersey that they knew better than to visit again by the time the night was through. They knew better than to do a lot of things by then. They knew to call it quits when they were ahead. They knew not to take small-time bets from gamblers who will mug you at knifepoint if they lose. And they knew you only humiliate a man in his own house if you have enough weapons to make it out alive.”
I remember zooming through this book while on a surf trip. After a hard day of paddling I’d lie in bed and read until I fell asleep, sometimes until the early morning. The book is the recounting of the gangster bowling culture in early America, where high-stakes bowling games were taking place in the bowling alleys of New York. Of course this attracted all sorts of interesting characters. The second half focuses mostly on Ernie Schlegel, a classic bowling hardman who eventually sets out on a journey to become a legitimate world champion. Really fun and exciting read, especially if you love great storytelling. True story too.
What The Dog Saw | Malcolm Gladwell
“They were there looking for people who had the talent to think outside the box. It never occurred to them that, if everyone had to think outside the box, maybe it was the box that needed fixing.”
Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favourite authors and storytellers, and I generally have to be in a certain headspace to read his books as they’re so thought-provoking and involved. What The Dog Saw is a collection of short essays where he investigates questions such as “Why are there hundreds of mustards but ketchup has never changed?” or “Why do Japanese women have breast cancer rates six times lower than American women?” By looking at these questions from unique angles, or perhaps, just closer than anyone else has, he tends to uncover ideas about us and the world that you don’t see on the surface. It is definitely not his best book, not for me anyway, but if you enjoy innovative, Freakonomics-esque ways of looking at the world, you will love this one.
The War Of Art | Steven Pressfield
“The artist cannot look to others to validate his efforts or his calling. If you don’t believe me, ask Van Gogh, who produced masterpiece after masterpiece and never found a buyer in his whole life.”
What does it mean to be an artist? How, and why, do we create art? Why is it so difficult? And how do we overcome it? Steven Pressfield writes of the debilitating difficulty of simply sitting down to write, or paint, or compose, and how the evils of procrastiation and “Resistance” prevent us from creating great things and reaching our potential. The main takeaway for me was about mindset towards your art – that it is war, a war against ourselves. As a creative, it might be one of the most important books you’ll ever read.
This Boy’s Life | Tobias Wolff
“I was subject to fits of feeling myself unworthy, somehow deeply at fault. It didn’t take much to bring this sensation to life, along with the certainty that everybody but my mother saw through me and did not like what they saw. There was no reason for me to have this feeling. I thought I’d left it back in Florida, together with my fear of fighting and my shyness with girls, but here it was, come to meet me.”
My Kindle continued to recommend this book to me at every turn, so I gave it a go. You may remember the film adaptation, many years ago, which starred Leo DiCaprio as the author. It’s a memoir of a boy growing up with a darling mother and a wack stepfather. It’s set in small town America, between various places, and is mostly about a young boy getting up to mischief while trying to survive boyhood. It was a fine read but honestly don’t remember much else from it, other than I read it quite quickly and enjoyed it.
The Liar’s Club | Mary Karr
“Now, Miss Karr, this looks like a bullet hole.”
Lecia didn’t miss a beat, saying, “Mother, isn’t that where you shot at daddy?”
And Mother squinted up, slid her glasses down her patrician-looking nose and said, very blasé, “No that’s where I shot at Larry.” She wheeled to point at another wall, adding “Over there’s where I shot at your daddy.”
This was tipped as the memoir to rule all memoirs, winning prize after prize, so being a sucker for true stories of course I had to read it. It’s a very candid story of a looney father, a mother who can’t stop getting married, sexual assault, family secrets, child abuse, guns, booze, and all sorts of other crazy shit set in small town Texas. I found it a little underwhelming. Mary Karr can write, but she has a neurotic way of writing things that kind of loses me at times. But nonetheless a fascinating story, and not a bad pick if you’re a fan of memoir.
How Not To Travel The World | Lauren Juliff
“I’d read over and over about how one of the most important things a solo female traveller could do is listen to their instincts. How could I, though, when mine always told me I was going to die? Intuition was a thing for me to ignore. If I paid attention to it, I’d never leave the house.”
This is a memoir by my friend Lauren who blogs over at Never Ending Footsteps (I interviewed her a while ago here). It is a classic backpacking tale, through Europe and Southeast Asia, and Lauren talks openly about overcoming her anxiety through travel, finding love on the road with a Kiwi rascal, and dealing with all the shit that the road throws at her along the way. It started slow for me, but once the story picked up I zoomed through the book in a couple of days. Ultimately it’s about finding the courage to follow your dreams, and a real, honest look into the backpacking culture and what a single female traveller can expect when they go to the road.
Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland | Lewis Carroll
‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where -‘ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
‘- so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’
I have been meaning to read this one for a while. It was as great as I expected it to be. Of course the book needs no introduction but if you’re looking the wackiest, weirdest, most cryptic and imaginative story ever, open this one up. Everyone seems to have a favourite chapter – mine was Chapter 7: The Mad Tea Party.
Think And Grow Rich | Napoleon Hill
“Charles Dickens began by pasting labels on blacking pots. The tragedy of his first love penetrated the depths of his soul, and converted him into one of the world’s truly great authors. That tragedy produced, first, David Copperfield, then a succession of other works that made this a richer and better world for all who read his books. Disappointment over love affairs, generally has the effect of driving men to drink, and women to ruin; and this, because most people never learn the art of transmuting their strongest emotions into dreams of a constructive nature.”
The premise of the book is this: Napoleon Hill spent decades studying the most successful people in history. The book was written in 1937, so his subjects were people like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. His goal was to find out what the true drivers of success were. He found that it started in the mind. Everything that exists in the world started in the form of a thought. Someone thought it, then they did it. Not the other way around. So if you control your thoughts, you control your world. It might take 3 or 4 reads before you really digest it all, but definitely a must-read.
Influence | Rob Cialdini
In this book Rob Cialdini breaks down persuasion into a science, giving real-life examples of when you get persuaded to buy or do things, and why it works on you. For example, when a used car salesman offers you a very low price, what is he actually doing? How does he end up convincing you to pay the higher price in the end anyway? How did a group of monks multiply the donations received simply by giving people cheap flowers on the street? These are all examples you or others will experience in their own lives, and this book explains how and why they work.
The second part of each chapter explains how to recognise these techniques being used on you, and how to resist or even flip the script on the “influencer”. It’s all very interesting. Perfect if you’re in the business of selling, or if you’re one of those hopeless people who can never resist buying stuff.
Into The Wild | Jon Krakauer
“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
The story of Chris McCandless is a polarising one. A boy, wickedly smart, accepted into Harvard, suddenly drops off the grid one day. He donates his $20,000 savings (or thereabouts, I don’t remember) to Oxfam, burns all the cash in his pocket, adopts a new name, ditches his car by the side of the road, and walks out into the wilderness. His two year journey takes him up and down America, into Mexico, and later up to Alaska, where he planned to live off the land for an entire summer. He was found dead, of sickness and starvation, in the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. He was 24.
After his death, McCandless became somewhat of a hero amongst backpackers, nomads, hippies and other counterculture movements. This book explores his story – if you’re a traveller at heart you’ll love it.
The Millionaire Fastlane | MJ DeMarco
“In a few short years, JK Rowling, author and owner of the Harry Potter brand, went from being a 32 year old divorced English teacher to a media mogul worth over $400 million. The single mom has sold over 30 million copies of her books in 35 different languages. I guess she didn’t hear the excuse, “I’m a single mom and I don’t have time.” Ms. Rowling recalls the happiest point of her life – not the acquisition of millions, but the point at which she could write full time. Similarly, Dan Brown has sold over 80 million copies of the DaVinci Code in 51 languages. Let me be perfectly clear: If you sell 80 million of ANYTHING, you will be a very rich human being.”
If you’ve read your fair share of finance books the first half will be stuff you’ve heard before. The second half of the book is where he talks about the “Fastlane”; a process that supposedly anybody can use to become a millionaire within 5 years. Again the concepts are nothing new but he does manage to explain them in an easy-to-follow process that a layman can understand. He talks a lot about mindset and lifestyle changes, such as becoming a saver not a spender, a producer not a consumer, and building scaleable businesses through the “Law of Effection”, which states to earn millions of dollars you need to affect millions of people. If you can handle his “I’m so much smarter than everyone” tone, it’s a pretty good read.
When Breath Becomes Air | Paul Kalanithi
“Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?” she asked. “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?”
“Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I said.
Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering. Years ago, it had occurred to me that Darwin and Nietzsche agreed on one thing: the defining characteristic of the organism is striving. Describing life otherwise was like painting a tiger without stripes. After so many years of living with death, I’d come to understand that the easiest death wasn’t necessarily the best. We talked it over. Our families gave their blessing. We decided to have a child. We would carry on living, instead of dying.”
This is the memoir of a surgeon who was diagnosed with cancer, and the battle to live a fulfilling life knowing it was going to end much sooner than he had planned. The book will mean many different things to different people. There are so many life lessons tangled within each chapter, but ultimately it’s a reminder that we must all face death at some point, and therefore death is not the real challenge. The real challenge is, can we face it with integrity and acceptance? Can we meet death without bitterness and defeat? Can we die with gratitude for a life well lived, no matter how long or short we are given? It’s a difficult yet beautiful story, one we should all read.
The Tender Bar | J.R. Moehringer
“People just don’t understand how many men it takes to build one good man. Next time you’re in Manhattan and you see one of those mighty skyscrapers going up, pay attention to how many men are engaged in the enterprise. It takes just as many men to build a sturdy man, son, as it does to build a tower.”
I knew I wanted to be a writer after reading this one. This is a painfully beautiful story, beautifully written, beautifully honest, with beautiful characters you will come to adore. It is not a crazy story, in fact it’s quite an ordinary American story, but the author paints such a vivid picture of his life that you can’t help but feel a part it, like it’s happening before your eyes. He takes you through his childhood growing up with an absentee father, his dream of going to Yale, his love for his trying mother, his rocky adolescence, his first love, and everything else that sent him into manhood. The backdrop of all this, though, is the local bar where his uncle tended each night, and where the characters he met on the stools as a toddler eventually became his father figures who guided him from boy to man. My all time favourite!
The Art Of Learning by Josh Waitzkin
“I think a life of ambition is like existing on a balance beam. As a child, there is no fear, no sense for the danger of falling. The beam feels wide and stable, and natural playfulness allows for creative leaps and fast learning. You can run around doing somersaults and flips, always testing yourself with a love for discovery and new challenges. If you happen to fall off – no problem, you just get back on. But then, as you get older, you become more aware of the risk of injury. You might crack your head or twist your knee. The beam is narrow and you have to stay up there. Plunging off would be humiliating. While a child can make the beam a playground, high-stress performers often transform the beam into a tightrope. Suddenly you have everything to lose, the rope is swaying above a crater of fire, increasingly dramatic acrobatics are expected of you but the air feels thick with projectiles aimed to dislodge your balance. What was once light and inspiring can easily mutate into a nightmare.”
The Art Of Learning is part “how-to” and part memoir, where Josh shares his unique learning theories that have allowed him to rapidly excel in whatever discipline he chose. An example – when he started learning chess, instead of learning opening sequences and playing full matches, him and his coach would simply play games of king and pawn versus king – he learned the game backwards. This allowed him to better understand the power of the king and pawn, and how to control space. He applied these unique techniques to advance to world-class status in both tai chi and jiu jitsu – two notoriously difficult disciplines to learn.
I feel it’s not the most practical book, perhaps it’s a bit high level for me, but the story and theories themselves are truly fascinating. Would highly recommend, especially for anyone in martial arts or competitive sport.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
“I got, finally, the hands I always wanted. Hands just like the ones Tyrone taunted me with all those years ago. At the base of my right forefinger is an inch-and-a-half diagonal callus, yellowish-brown in color, where the heels of all the knives I’ve ever owned have rested, the skin softened by constant immersions in water. I’m proud of this one. It distinguishes me immediately as a cook, as someone who’s been on the job for a long time. You can feel it when you shake my hand, just as I feel it on others of my profession. It’s a secret sign, sort of a Masonic handshake without the silliness, a way that we in the life recognize one another, the thickness and roughness of that piece of flesh, a résumé of sorts, telling others how long and how hard it’s been.”
Who doesn’t love Anthony Bourdain? I’ve been a fan ever since I saw him have a foodgasm over a bowl of pho in Vietnam.
Kitchen Confidential is his no holds barred memoir of his early life as an upcoming chef in New York City. For me, it was less of a chef’s memoir, and more a story of what a man can achieve when he loves what he does and follows his dream, because the ups and downs will test you, but if you push hard enough you’ll come out the other end smiling. Will always be a fan of Anthony Bourdain.
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
“I keep remembering one of my Guru’s teachings about happiness. She says that people universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it.”
Elizabeth Gilbert’s wildly famous memoir tells the story of a successful, married writer in New York City who supposedly has it all, yet is on the verge of a complete mid-life meltdown. Once her divorce is finalised, she drops it all and embarks on a one year journey of self discovery.
It’s not a book that I particularly enjoyed (it took me several months to finish it), and I think it’s quite clear I wasn’t the target audience. But as a traveller, it raised many questions to reflect on. What is it about travel that makes it so healing and therapeutic? What are we running from, and toward, when we travel? Is it the people or the places that really make travel so transformational? That’s what made it worth reading for me.
The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss
“For a long time, I’ve known that the key to getting started down the path of being remarkable in anything is to simply act with the intention of being remarkable.”
When I first read this book, I didn’t really have a reason for reading it. I just decided to pick it up because Tim’s first book, The Four Hour Work Week, was excellent. So I zipped through this book and kind of enjoyed it, but it was just okay.
When I had a bad shoulder injury a year later, I went back to the book and read it in its entirety, in particular the chapters around injury prevention and cure. On the second read, the book blew my mind, and changed my life. If you live a reasonably physical life, have an interest in health and fitness and enjoy pushing yourself – definitely read this. It has so many interesting information points and experiments that it will be impossible not to find something you find beneficial and interesting.
Fresh Off The Boat by Eddie Huang
“Dave had no shoes. This was something I noticed was very common with white people down south. They went everywhere with no shoes. Their parents would drive barefoot, then throw a pair of sandals on the asphalt as they walked out of the car and into Publix. I didn’t get it. The bottoms of their feet were all red, there were little pieces of gravel between their toes, and somehow they didn’t care. I mean, Dominicans hate socks and love Aventura, but at least they still got Jordan 7s on. Then Dave invited zhimself and his stank-ass feet into our house. I liked the guy, but I knew that as soon as my mom saw him walking around on the carpet with his dirty-ass bare feet, she would bug. Everyone knows to take their shoes off in an Asian home, but the fuck you supposed to tell Huckleberry Finn when he rolls in barefoot? There’s no answer for that. It’s unprecedented behavior on our continent, unless you’re a wounded samurai that got his wooden chancletas stolen.”
When you grow up looking different to everyone else, it becomes a part of who you are. It’s something that affects every single minute of your day. Do you belong, or don’t you? It shapes your life, your journey. Eddie writes candidly about his life before 30, and the continuing challenge of finding acceptance as his own person in a society of racial profiles. Mixed in are lots of family hard love, drug dealing, laughs, nuggets of wisdom, many victories, constant hustle and a lot of anger – his story is thrown at you full force in the voice his fans know as uniquely his. If you don’t relate, much of it may come off as bitter and over-dramatic. But if you’ve experienced a similar upbringing, you will be nodding, laughing, and rooting for him all the way.
The Fastest Billion by Charles Robertson
“Imagine a continent torn by multiple wars, beset by ethnic and religious warfare, malnutrition, disease and illiteracy –all of it complicated by poorly drawn borders, a still potent post-colonial stigma and the incessant meddling of outside powers. With a single exception, per capita income hovers at $400, primary school education reaches only a fraction of the region’s vast population, and its authoritarian rulers ensure any revenue generated by the region’s rich natural resources is spent on personal, rather than national priorities. Too many readers will by now have concluded that the continent referred to above is my own, Africa. In fact, while Sub-Saharan Africa has suffered the same problems in recent decades, the region described above is Developing Asia in the mid-1970s: an area of the world that had endured 200 years of decline, imperial domination and economic stagnation before beginning on the path that would transform it into the most economically vibrant zone on Earth. Just as SSA has suffered through its despots and destitution, so the seedlings of transformation have pushed through the African soil. As an increasing number of economists, investors and financial policymakers have realised, Sub Saharan Africa has emerged from its own malaise, into a dawn that promises growth to rival, if not surpass, that recorded by Asia’s ’Tigers’ over the past two decades.”
Every day in Africa medicine is advancing, democracies are emerging and incomes are rising. There are skyscrapers going up in almost every capital. Education is expanding, fast. More people are voting and campaigning in elections. A middle class is starting to emerge. Banking and internet is sometimes more advanced than many first world countries. It is at the forefront of a new age.
The Fastest Billion explores this emergence, through research, hard data, historic comparisons and basic economic principles. It’s a fascinating look behind the scenes of Africa’s development (for those who are interested), and gives estimates of when, and why, certain milestones will be achieved (literacy rates, democracy, GDP levels). If you have an interest in Africa, or are planning to visit for the first time, this book will help you make sense of what you’re looking at – a continent on the brink of change.
The Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson
“A year before I was scheduled to be released, there was talk that I would be granted an early release. A lot of national press people were questioning my conviction. My lawyers were talking to the court and to the Washingtons. Apparently, they had reached an agreement. I would pay the Washingtons $1.5 million and I would apologize to Desiree and I would get out of jail immediately. I didn’t even have to admit to raping her, just apologize for it. Some of my friends like Jeff Wald were pushing for the apology. “Mike, I’d admit to raping Mother Teresa to get the fuck out of jail,” he told me. “If I apologize, the prison in my head would be worse than the prison I’m in now,” I told him. So they brought me to Judge Gifford’s courtroom in June of 1994 for a sentence reduction hearing. I was dressed in denim pants, a light blue work shirt, and work boots. The new prosecutor asked me if I had anything to say. “I’ve committed no crime. I’m going to stick with that to my grave. I never violated anyone’s chastity.” That wasn’t what anyone wanted to hear. They sent me right back to jail.”
I love Mike Tyson. I’ve watched almost all his fights, watched all his interviews. He’s a warrior. But after reading his story, I can truly say I admire him. Mike Tyson’s story is a hard one. After reading his memoir I can’t even understand how he’s still alive, let alone how he became one of the greatest fighters of all time.
This memoir is a story of the highest highs and the lowest lows, from a man largely misunderstood. The media, as always, tells you what they want you to know. The memoir fills in the gaps behind the headlines. He is truly a man who has survived it all, and I’d love to shake his hand one day. Best book I read all year.
Models by Mark Manson
“Men don’t seem to understand that if a woman rejects him because he’s short, or because she doesn’t like his hair, or because she finds him boring, then he wasn’t going to enjoy being around her anyway.”
Mark Manson is a blogger I’ve followed for a while now (he should be familiar to many of you too, I share a lot of his articles!). His first book, Models, is a book about women, or more specifically, what men should do to improve their relationships with women. It feeds from his experience as a self-help writer and a dating coach. I found it a case of somewhat over-complicating things (he himself concedes this in the book) but there’s a lot of wisdom in here. He breaks down situations a lot of guys will be familiar with, and analyses them in a way that will make you go “I never thought of it that way.” A good read for guys in their twenties finding their way in the world.
Open by Andre Agassi
“I play a kid I recognize from juniors, Pete Something. Sampras, I think. Greek kid from California. When I played him in juniors, I beat him handily. I was ten, he was nine. The next time I saw him was some months ago, at a tournament. I can’t recall which one. I was sitting on a beautiful grassy hill beside my hotel, just after winning my match. Philly and Nick were sitting alongside me. We were stretched out, enjoying the fresh air, and watching Pete, who’d just taken a beating in his match. He was on the hotel court for a post-match practice, and nearly every ball he hit looked bad. He missed three of every four swings. His backhand was awkward, and one-handed, which was new. Someone had tinkered with his backhand, and it was clearly going to cost him a career. ‘This guy will never make it on the tour,’ Philly said. ‘He’ll be lucky to qualify into tournaments,’ I said.”
I grew up watching Andre Agassi play tennis. My Mum was a big tennis fan and I spent many nights watching Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras duke it out on TV with my brothers.
This book is all tennis – his childhood as a prodigy, his rivalry with Pete Sampras, his hate for Wimbledon and the French Open, but the message is about loyalty, family, and what it really takes to be the best in the world.
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
“The announcer called the LA bus. I picked up my bag and got on, and who should be sitting there alone but the Mexican girl. I dropped right opposite her and began scheming right off. I was so lonely, so sad, so tired, so quivering, so broken, so beat, that I got up my courage, the courage necessary to approach a strange girl, and acted. Even then I spent five minutes beating my thighs in the dark as the bus rolled down the road. You gotta, you gotta or you’ll die! Damn fool, talk to her! What’s wrong with you? Aren’t you tired enough of yourself by now? And before I knew what I was doing I leaned across the aisle to her (she was trying to sleep on the seat) and said, ‘Miss, would you like to use my raincoat for a pillow?’”
Bob Dylan wrote “I read On The Road in 1959 and it changed my life like it changed everyone elses.” How can you not read it after that?
On The Road is a memoir of Kerouac’s documenting his journeys across America during the 40’s with friend Dean Moriarty. While Kerouac’s character is kind of reserved, Moriarty could be described in today’s terms as that boozy Australian backpacker who’s been travelling forever doesn’t give a shit about anything. It’s a potent mix.
To be honest, I struggled through it. It had some great moments but it wasn’t for me. Still, I’m glad I finally read it.
What I Learned Losing A Million Dollars by Jim Paul
“I made $248,000. In one day, a quarter of a million dollars. The high was unbelievable. It’s literally like you expect God to call up any minute and ask if it’s okay to let the sun come up tomorrow morning.”
This book came highly recommended from quite a few people. It documents Jim Paul’s incredible run of success as a trader of lumber and bean oil, amassing over a million dollars in profits over a few years, to finally losing it all on one bad trade.
The first half of the book is a memoir. It tells his early beginnings as a hustler at the golf club he used to caddy at when he was a kid, to his rapid rise as a floor trader in New York, and how a love of money and shiny things had consumed him from a very young age.
The second half of the book is reminiscent of a university textbook. He talks about different trading strategies, with the focus on being how to not lose money, rather than how to make it. To be honest you need a background in finance or accounting to really understand the second half. If you’re not familiar with terms like margin call, short selling and futures, it will be mostly gibberish to you. Still, a fun read for those who are interested.
Making Mavericks by Frosty Hesson
“To say that Mavericks isn’t for kids is doing it an injustice. It’s hardly for people. I’d been surfing it for seven years when Jay had his life-altering moment. I had seen world-renowned big wave riders paddle out, take one look at the building-sized, dark green wall of ocean rushing at them with such incredible force that the water actually gets sucked backward up the face of the wave, and then just turn around and go home. These were people who’d conquered breaks all over the globe, but they simply wanted nothing to do with Mavs. Jay, though, he wanted to slay dragons.”
When Jay Moriarty wiped out on the famous building-sized waves at Mavericks, he became a household name, at least in the surf community. Taking on the granddaddy of big wave surfing at age 16, no one could be believe he survived the wipe out, let alone paddled back out to catch another wave a few minutes later.
Making Mavericks is the memoir of big-wave surfer Frosty Hesson, a Mavericks regular and Jay Moriarty’s mentor/coach. Most people outside the surf community will have never heard the names Frosty Hesson or Jay Moriarty, and in my mind that’s what makes the story so compelling. They were regular guys like the rest of us, with jobs and families and bills – it’s what they stood for that made them special. Highly recommended.
The Food Traveler’s Handbook by Jodi Ettenberg
Jodi from Legal Nomads was a big inspiration for me to start blogging, so of course when I learned she had written a book I had to grab a copy.
The book is a travel guidebook of sorts, focusing solely on food – how to find good, authentic food while travelling, how to stay safe while eating in developing countries, what to do when you get sick, plus many personal anecdotes of her travels throughout the world. It’s a nice short read, and I think any novice backpacker who plans on chowing in street food stalls and local markets should pick it up. As someone who has gotten sick from food on the road, Jodi’s knowledge is certainly worth having.
Imagine: A Vagabond Story by Grant Lingel
I was intrigued when this book popped up on my Kindle suggestions, and decided to give it a shot. It’s written by a college-aged, white, male New Yorker, who skips his last semester of college to go on a backpacking trip around Mexico and Central America. It’s written almost like a diary and is a simple, chronological narration of his trip. I wouldn’t say the book was inspiring in any way, or there was any real lessons to take away from it, but the sex and drugs made it pretty entertaining and I enjoyed it. It’s quite a typical backpacking story, I think most young males will enjoy it.
When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him
“Tadpoles. Crickets. Toads. Centipedes. Mice. Rats and scorpions. We eat anything. As we till the earth, we look upon bugs as buried treasure. Our eyes scan the soil, tucking any edible treat in a waistband, a pocket, tied into a scarf. Later the prize is retrieved, skewered on a stick, and stuffed into the fire. Those who haven’t caught anything watch, their begging eyes following each move. We must ignore them, and also ignore what we eat. There is no revulsion. Food is food. Anything, everything tastes good—even the smell of roasting crickets makes stomachs rumble with desire. Yet even the smallest creatures, the rodents, the insects, are becoming scarce. Some days, our meals for the entire day consist of boiled leaves. Our lives are reduced to a tight circle. Each day revolves around what we can find to eat for the following day. And until it comes, we think about food. All day. All night. Hunger owns us.”
This is the first book that has every brought me to tears. Before I visited Cambodia, I downloaded this book at the airport and started reading. It gripped me from the first line, I zoomed through it in about 3 days. When I visited Phnom Penh, and visited the Killing Fields and the genocide museum, it was all brought to life by this memoir – which told all the details in painful detail. I remember emailing the author right after telling her how powerful and heart-wrenching her story was, and how much I appreciated her writing it. An absolute must read if you ever visit Cambodia.
Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
“Thus, the question of how and when to start vagabonding is not really a question at all. Vagabonding starts now. Even if the practical reality of travel is still months or years away, vagabonding begins the moment you stop making excuses, start saving money, and begin to look at maps with the narcotic tingle of possibility. From here, the reality of vagabonding comes into sharper focus as you adjust your worldview and begin to embrace the exhilarating uncertainty that true travel promises.”
Considered a bible for the backpacking generation, Vagabonding is a book that offers a new way of living – a way of freedom, few material things, no alarm clocks, living frugally, and travelling the world. What is most compelling about the book is how Potts intertwines the integral facets of travel – openness, mindfulness, acceptance, frugality, appreciation – into everyday lives. Vagabonding, he argues, is not a way of travelling, but a way of life. The perfect book to read if you suffer from any level of wanderlust – the book will light your imagination on fire, but not without giving you many practical tips to bring those desires to life, too.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
“Everything we have learned in Outliers says that success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed. If it were, Chris Langan would be up there with Einstein. Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”
This is the first book I ever read from Gladwell, and is still my favourite to date. It’s a compelling read about how success happens, and how much the successful person in question actually has to do with it. The answer: A lot less than you think. Gladwell looks into the stories of super successful people, such as Bill Gates, and pinpoints “gifts” they received in their lives that, through no doing of their own, made a huge contribution to their success. He also points to equally talented people who were not lucky enough to receive these “gifts” who have drifted into obscurity and sometimes poverty. Super insightful and urges you to see successful and non-successful people very differently.
The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau
“As you begin to think like an entrepreneur, you’ll notice that business ideas can come from anywhere.”
I picked this book up after discovering the author’s blog, who at the time was on a mission to visit every country in the world. He had an impressive resume and this book was exactly what I was looking for at the time, having just started a blog myself.
The premise of the book is that lucrative business ideas can be started for as little as $100. They don’t require large amounts of capital and no special skills or education. Just a willingness to view the world differently and take advantage of opportunities. There are many case studies within the book of people who have done exactly that, although some were more realistic for the average person than others. Still a great book, not quite on the level of 4 Hour Work Week but worthwhile for the budding entrepreneur.
The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss
“If you spend your time, worth $20-25 per hour, doing something that someone else will do for $10 per hour, it’s simply a poor use of resources.”
Often considered the bible of the digital nomad era, the 4 Hour Work Week is a book Tim Ferriss wrote after managing to multiply the productivity of his business, all while living in a different country and outsourcing his tasks around the globe. Eventually he turned this into a step-by-step method that anyone could follow. In the book he explores lots of interesting concepts, such as outsourcing menial tasks to places like India for $2-$4 per hour, and instead using your time to work on jobs where you can earn $50-$100 per hour. The book will be a real eye-opener for someone who is new to the remote work/digital nomad movement – lots of outside-the-box concepts and new-age thinking that will surely be like nothing you’ve seen in a traditional 9-5 office.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams.”
Probably one of the most popular books among backpackers, I read this after returning home from a long trip through Asia. The story is about a young shepherd who goes looking for a fabled alchemist – a man who can turn anything he touches into gold. There are many nuggets of wisdom throughout the book, but the overarching message is that you should never give up on your dreams, and that sometimes they are much closer than you think. Beautifully written and inspiring tale, perfect for the road.