Some books you read once and by next week, you have forgotten them. Some books stay with you for a while longer and may pop into your thoughts now and then. Then there are books that change you so profoundly, you know you will never be the same again.
These are the 10 books that have left lasting impressions on how I perceive the world, and on the type of person that I am.
The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris
A former zoologist, Desmond Morris applies the perspective of studying animals to studying that bizarre animal: humans. He looks at our defining characteristics and how they separate us from the deluge of other animals. He brings to light how some of the things we take for granted are actually very unique.
He doesn’t get scared by cultural scarecrows but confronts head-on topics such as our sexuality, relationships and the role that culture plays in our development. Looking at humanity from an outsiders perspective, he explains many things whose origins are not common knowledge. You don’t need to have a degree in zoology to understand him, even as he walks the cutting edge of the knowledge that was available at the time of publishing. Still highly relevant to modern life and the challenges we all face.
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared M. Diamond
This is a long and sometimes dry book, so don’t read it for the suspense. This book explains how minor differences allowed people from Western cultures to conquer or colonize most of the world (hint: it wasn’t superior genetics). If you ever wondered why Native Americans were conquered, rather than Europe being colonized by Native Americans, this is the book to read.
Well-grounded in facts and scientific discoveries, this is not just some person’s unproven ramblings. You can believe this book because disbelieving it would imply that you do not trust the empirical science used in every area of your life. This book shows how population drive increases in technology, and how technology drives increases in technology.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
This book is about how you think, and the different ways of thinking and how you think wrong. Drawing on new research in all the ways that human’s perception of things can be influenced by the most unexpected factors. Some of the areas where natural intuition is downright wrong are discussed in depth. He proves how things sound worse than they are and how this is useful.
The big role that emotions play in our decision making, and why a coldly rational person cannot make good decisions. This book explains insights gained from people who have brain damage and how those ideas apply to all of us in everyday life. If you want to know more about that mush of gray pulp between your ears, read this book.
War! What is it good for? by Ian Morris
This book makes a controversial statement: that ultimately war has done humanity more good that it has brought pain and suffering. I won’t convince you in a few sentences because this is an argument that takes a whole book to construct. Along the way, there are stops in the Tanzanian rainforest and the peaceful bonobos, Ancient Rome, Europe and the five-hundred-years war, the World Wars and Mongol barbarians.
The very useful ideas of mobile vs stationary bandits, productive and unproductive warfare, the mathematical field of game theory and how the role of the USA in the modern world will change. I think that after 350-something pages you will agree with me that we are better off for all the wars that have ravaged our earth despite all their negatives.
Bionomics by Micheal L. Rothschild
Have you ever thought of how biology and economics have overlaps in so many of their processes and terminology? This book shows the direct correlations that stem from these fields’ underpinning framework, that is governed by the same laws, and leading to the eventual conclusion that capitalism in some form is inevitable.
This book, together with War by Ian Morris, left me with the idea that evil is very hard to find because so much good can come from things that appear to be immoral. Every person has their use, even those with no obvious place. Read them and see your model of the world shake and re-form.
Non-Zero by Robert Wright
Zero-sum (win-lose or lose-win) and non-zero sum( win-win or lose-lose) are part of the mathematics of life, in biology and economy. If you aren’t an optimist, watch out, this book can give you an unshakeable belief that everything will turn out fine in the end. Instead of keeping up with what is happening in the world, read this and you will understand the trends humanity has been exhibiting for the past 3000 years, and will continue following for many millenniums to come.
Some of the different characteristics of different forms of societies are explained, and also how and why societies experience change. How humanity started in small hunter-gatherer groups and now is becoming urban (more than 50% worldwide), living in big cities of more than a million people. How technology helps to bring more people together for win-win relationships.
Future Shock by Alvin Toffler
A true visionary, Alvin predicted trends and phenomena more than 30 years before they became common knowledge. Before people knew how the accelerating change would influence all of us, he already saw it coming. I wish that the governments and society had heeded him more: we could all use a Council of Future Shock now.
Future-shock deals with how the rapid pace of change is shocking people. Biologically we can adapt to change only so much and for so long at a time. Increasingly the shock of the change overwhelms us. Not just as individuals, but governments and corporations are being ripped apart by the speed of change.
This writer also reads a lot. The reference section is many pages thick, so if you want to follow up on any of the ideas that he propounds in his book, many pointers are given. He also wrote two other big books at ten-year intervals: The Third Wave and Powershift. Both of them are also very insightful and well-researched.
Personal Development For Smart People by Steve Pavlina
Written by the uber-successful blogger Steve Pavlina, this book gives a framework for personal development that allows you to grow at the maximum pace. By using his model of Truth, Love, and Power, you can identify which aspect is holding back your personal development and then create meaningful progress. Unlike other books, his principles have universal application to any field that you want to improve in.
This book is very well structured with no unnecessary verbiage. It is also not just a rehash of the quality and in-depth (free)articles that he has on his blog. Gives practical steps to taking action, staying motivated and planning your life. Do the exercises in the book and you will see results within a week. If you only read one book this decade, read this!
Essentialism by Greg McKeowen
In a world full of noise, it has never been more important to know what is important. This book explains why all successful people are essentialists, and how you can be one too. Read this and unlock your focus.
The Road Less Travelled
I read this book long ago, and can’t seem to find it on our bookshelves, so forgive me any inaccuracies. This book had a deep impact on my philosophy of life. My desire not to follow the herd of sheepwalking, KFC-eating, trivial-tweeting zombies started here. To have a good character has been a guiding influence in my life. Not the only one, for I have lied about chores and stolen my fair share of candy and cookies in my day, but an important one.
I feel that as moral human being we have an obligation to think for ourselves, live our own lives and not cause harm to other people. If that means taking the road less traveled, I hope that at some point we as a society can turn that tiny and winding road into a clearly demarcated super-highway.
I have read many books in my life and intend to read mountains more. The medium of books is a valuable cornerstone of civilised society and one that is still underappreciated. Let new worlds open up to you, and learn something that you didn’t know. Not trivia that you forget again tomorrow, but something that makes you just a tiny bit better person.
As humans, we have a recency bias. I know these books lean towards those that have more recently become part of my world, but I cannot escape my own head. I have tried to give as accurate a reflection of the books that have changed my life as I can. Life is but a story lost in translation.
To happiness, and beyond!