In your opinion, what are [approximately] 5 different books (regardless of genre/type) that you thoroughly enjoyed, or greatly benefited/learned from, & why?
Summary: (sorry, it’s more than 5)
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
- Traveling with the Secret Seven by Enid Blyton
- The Famous Five by Enid Blyton
- Harry Potter (all) by J.K. Rowling
- Goose Bumps by R.L. Stine
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
- The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
- The Count of Monte Cristos by Alexandre Dumas
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Also, I’d state the above aren’t necessarily my top picks, but more picks that would suit a wide-range of people: young to old.
Let’s start off by picking a work of fiction, I’d have to settle on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Every child should go through the phase of reading the works of Enid Blyton. Traveling with the Secret Seven and the Famous Five should be a part of everyone’s childhood. At the end of the journey should be the Harry Potter books waiting to be devoured with awe, happiness, and of course - some tears. Hey, even something as simplistic as Goose Bumps was pivotal in paving my passion for literature.
The teenager should read different varieties of books - crime, thriller, comedy, basically any books written for teenagers. I believe these are the books that shape a person into what they are growing up to be. Adolescent years are there to explore the soft side and the rebellious side and the vulnerable side of oneself through such books. I would suggest books like The Alchemist, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged etc.
In the prime of youth, after a few failures in life and regretting a lot of choices in college, after realizing that living according to the extreme philosophies of a lot of the books from one’s teenage is silly, one should move on to the classical works - The Count of Monte Cristos and the To Kill a Mocking Bird to truly appreciate the quality of writing. One should laugh at the actions of Jeeves in the works of PG Wodehouse and revel in the seriousness and beauty of Nabokov’s Lolita. Though I am not a fan of dark and serious books, I would recommend spending time reading books on the deepest of human psyche to understand and become a better person.
Then, one should clean the dust off their bookshelf and retrieve the old set of Calvin and Hobbes to read it once again hoping to experience childhood only to realize it applies to life as it exists on that day and remember to put it away for a future reading. I can’t pick the books for you. This was all what I wish I had done better.
However, the one thing that keeps coming to me is the importance of History. Every single person who can get their hands on a book should spend time learning history. I understand schools may teach you history, but that is nowhere close to the history of the world. History teaches culture and how culture changes with time. It teaches us the causes and consequences of wars. It teaches us how it isn’t just wars that cause trouble, but even economic problems. More importantly, it will educate a person on mankind and how we are all very much the same.
Status Anxiety - Alain De Botton
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
Protagoras and Meno - Plato
Beyond Good and Evil - Friedrich Nietzsche
The Contenders - John Wain
It’s very hard to pick a mere five. In terms of having an impact on my life, these would have to be my top picks.
Status Anxiety - Alain De Botton
Basically, Status Anxiety is exactly how it sounds, delves into the fixation of being present and known - worrying about what others think of us; whether we’re a success of failure, a winner or loser.
If we train our eyes on eternal verities, or rather eternal doubts, we will learn to stop worrying about our public reputation; but it finishes by recommending that we simply spread our risks and take advantage of the vast variety of ways in which success and failure can be defined.
I learnt that public perception should not alter personal principles and that I should always hold true to what I believe is right. Conforming to societal norms is dooming yourself for a life of mediocrity. Actually, my old Headmaster put it nicely: “don’t lick the lollipop of mediocrity”
NOTABLE BOOKS BY AUTHOR:
-Essays in Love
-Consolations of Philosophy
-The Consolations of Philosophy
-Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion
13 - 30
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita, generally considered Nabokov’s greatest novel, unites wildly grotesque parody, farce, and pathos with two powerful, shocking subjects: the passionate feelings of a grown man toward a pubescent girl and the complex nature of romantic love, which is not only tender and generous but also ruthless and even totalitarian.
The novel’s middle-aged, middle-European narrator “writes” this book as his confession while in a prison cell awaiting trial for murder. His double-talk name, Humbert Humbert, sets the tone of punning parody that pervades the text. Humbert Humbert traces his sexual obsession for “nymphets”—girls between the ages of nine and fourteen—to a case of interrupted coitus when he was thirteen years old; he and a certain Annabel Leigh had the beginnings of their first affair, forever aborted by her premature death of typhus.
Here Humbert discovers Lolita, a twelve-year-old, gum-chewing, Coke-gurgling, comic-book-addicted, blatantly bratty schoolgirl. They ultimately end up together in a relationship, fuelled by lust and perceived love. This story however, doesn’t have a happy ending.
I used to read as a form of escapism, however this is the first book that I read in a more analytical, thoughtful, way. The book was (and is) a literary masterpiece and opened my eyes to real literature.
NOTABLE BOOKS BY AUTHOR:
I realise I’m yet to do discuss the other three books in my list, I’ll come back and edit this post tomorrow. It has taken a little longer than I initially expected.
3 & 4 is Philosophy; and 5 is Fiction.
- Mao’s Last Dancer. I read this when I was quite young, and it was a serious challenge to fully understand it. Despite this, I found it a very powerful read, and it’s something you only appreciate having read as you get a bit older.
- Zero to One. This is an awesome book by Peter Thiel about building startup companies (hence the name - taking nothing to something!). I found it super interesting as a person who has interested that align exactly with that.
- The Power of One. Another one that I read when I was quite little, but it was definitely a great and somewhat iconic read. Much like Mao’s last dancer, it was a book I read to challenge myself - and once again I probably didn’t truly appreciate how good it was until I got a bit older.
- The Quiet American. I thought that this was a very interesting commentary on the American intervention into the Vietnam War, and while subtle, provoked actually quite a lot of thought from me.
- Creative Confidence. I got given this book when I visited IDEO, which is a design company in San Francisco, but it was written by IDEO partners with their experience from the company and from working with the Stanford d.school. I found it a very interesting read.
In no particular order, here are 2 books that I would recommend and have recently read.
- Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
- Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott Abbott
Freakonomics is a book about economics, but not in the way that most people think of economics. Instead, the author uses economic techniques to analyse some really interesting questions, like how sumo wrestlers and teachers are incentivised to cheat, or how the similarities between the Ku Klux Klan and real estate agents are tied to their control of information. Really interesting read from an author that looks at the world through a very unique lens.
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions is an interesting story about a square that lives in a 2-D world. The book explores the quirks that would arise from a 2-D world, before moving onto a 1-D world and briefly a world with zero dimensions. The square is then exposed to the 3-D world, and the author explores how an additional dimension can seem so incomprehensible and foreign. It sounds like quite a mathematical book, and no doubt would appeal more to someone who is interested in Mathematics, but there is no actual Maths in the book - so don’t let that put you off. The book also explores some interesting ideas about gender and social equality.
Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It - Great insights here from an FBI negotiator with practical lessons that can be applied to all aspects of life.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People - A classic in the self-help section, this is a must-read for anyone wanting more clarity and direction in life.
How to Win Friends and Influence People - Again, another classic of self-help with some rules to live by. Yes, it’s a bit old but I find myself using the lessons from this book on a regular basis.
A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry - A beautifully told and moving story to get you out of whichever bubble you find yourself in.
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Go Set a Watchman - Harper Lee
1984 - George Orwell
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Harry Potter (all 7)
Focus: To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (alongside Go Set a Watchman - Harper Lee)
These two are a sequel of sorts - the latter being the most controversial since it so directly contradicted the audience’s preference for Atticus Finch; a Southern lawyer who represented society’ ideals of a moral hero. There are several themes to be analysed in these two novels - racism, innocence, justice, morality/moral contradiction, femininity - the list goes on. I’ll focus on one aspect that resonates with any one person who has picked up the formerly named book.
Harper Lee ingeniously instills a rational understanding - through the character Atticus Finch - that everyone has a basic human dignity, and that we therefore owe each individual not only respect, but the effort to try to understand one’s own unique perspective. Atticus essentially instills this worldview in his daughter (the protagonist Scout Finch) when he tells her that rather than condemning people for acting in ways that are seen as unfair, cruel or unconventional, she should first try “standing in their skin”. I think the relevance of this to today is stronger than ever; we live in a world where people have an exceptionally high ability to present a facade lifestyle and, therefore, we can never truly understand someone until we ‘walk a mile in their shoes’.
Though the above is anecdotally simplistic and comes across as common sense to most, there are various layers to be lifted here - so I encourage you to read this novel (not once but potentially several times!)
- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A tale of a injustice told through the innocent eyes of a child. A classic and must-read.
- The Rise of Islamic Capitalism by Vali Nasr
How the capitalist mindset of the Muslim bourgeoisie, referred to as the Islamic “critical middle”, pits them at odds with extremism and the clerical autocracy rule. As a previous Advisor to the Obama Administration, he writes, “the great battle for the soul of the Muslim world will be fought not over religion but over market capitalism.”
- Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech? by Mick Hume
A frighteningly logical case for free speech and how political correctness is quashing our basic rights to it
- Once / Boy Overboard / Girl Underground - Morris Gleitzman
Classic teen reads I loved when I was younger about escaping real and life-threatening situations
- Zen Under Fire by Marianne Elliot
Personal account of a UNHR Lawyer’s time in Afghanistan
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
The language used is stupendously beautiful, and the themes that he touches on really speak to the core of the human experience. It also gives access to a time and place in the world that we currently have very little exposure to - it’s very mind-opening.
Zero to One - Peter Thiel
Thiel, whilst controversial in many ways, has a perspective on business and the economy that is far deeper, clearer and integrated than many others. As a co-founder of PayPal and one of the biggest financial actors in the world today, his vision of what a company can and should be, and the process of getting there, is a must-read for all aspiring businessmen and businesswomen
Man’s Search for meaning - Viktor Frankl
As a Psychotherapist who was a prisoner at Auschwitz, Frankl has drawn on his personal experiences of some of the most horrific and sadly iconic experiences of modern history to create a short treatise of what it is that has people flourish and truly LIVE, and what it is that has people give up and fade into death and emptiness. The answer to life’s biggest question, whatever that is for you, is in the title of the book.
The Practising Mind - Thomas Sterner
This is a book about being present. Sterner is an accomplished musician and piano tuner, and he has travelled far further into the realm of human fulfilment and quality of life than most. He speaks to an issue that lies at the core of all of human religion and philosophy - how to be truly present, here and now, and experience the world for what it is, rather than drifting off into a past or future that doesn’t exist and only induces anxiety or fear. A must-read for a crash course on mental hygiene.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You - Cal Newport
This is one of the clearest and most helpful career advice books I have ever read. It has greatly impacted not only my life but many of my close friends. Newport, a Computer Science Professor, has turned conventional career advice on its head, and offers a very clear, logical and implementable approach to figuring out what to do with all those working hours for the rest of your life.
One resource I HIGHLY recommend for good books is Derek Sivers’ Books list. This guy is a phenomenon unto himself:
I love this question and responses I’ve seen here. I thought to add some different recommendations into the mix, as quite a few favourites have been noted already above.
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
Breathtakingly poignant characterisation, with commentary on good and evil.
The Art of Happiness, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler
Good to Great, Jim Collins
Essential for those passionate about company vision, culture, and the discipline required to leave a legacy.
The 4-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferris
Genius in its simplicity and practicality. A fresh reminder of how not to suffer the 9-5 work grind.
The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein
A children’s book that takes an adult lense to the power of generosity and friendship.
There are some fantastic books already listed, some personal favourites include Lolita, Status Anxiety, Mao’s Last Dancer, and The Contenders.
I’ll add to the already in depth list:
Hacking Your Education (Dale J. Stephens)
Stephens is the founder of UnCollege and author of Hacking Your Education. The book challenges people to learn differently, deviating from the traditional path of tertiary education. It doesn’t displace the notion of traditional education, instead its aim is to depict that there are many other alternatives and that learning is about picking what is right for you; figuring out how to create an education from all possible avenues: university or otherwise.
The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg)
Duhigg drills down life to this. We are all habitual people and our lives are run by a series of mini routines which are triggered by a cue and end with a reward. Identify the trigger and you can detour to a different, more positive routine. The idea (and Duhigg backs this up by referencing scientific studies of mice) is that old routines can never be obliterated but you can write over those negative routines by instituting a positive routine instead.
The Consolations of Philosophy (Alain de Botton)
This is a great book for those that want an introduction to Philosophy. It’s a short book and suitable for all ages, I believe I read this back in high school. The book introduces some of history’s greatest minds. Bringing together their ideas and relating them to the modern perspective. Each chapter (6) of the book focusses on a particular philosopher and idea: Socrates offers us consolations for unpopularity; Epicurus, consolations for being poor; Seneca, consolation for frustration; Montaigne, consolation for inadequacy; Schopenhauer, consolation for unrequited love; and lastly, Nietzsche, a consolation for difficulties.
Sure, there are other philosophers De Botton could of touched on. But it’s a fun, interesting, book nonetheless!
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading some of the books previously listed, namely The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Mao’s Last Dancer, Zero to One, 1984, and The Great Gatsby.
Two other personal favorites:
Antifragile - Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The overarching theme of this book is about subjecting yourself to stress in order to get better, and how lack of stress is not necessarily a good thing. It’s a great follow-on from Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan, both of which are highly recommended if you’re into statistics, economics, finance or philosophy.
Thinking Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman
Fascinating book about cognitive biases, logical fallacies, and how they influence decision-making. If you enjoy reading this, I would also recommend The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis.
‘The Godfather’ by Mario Puzo
Having read the novel before watching the film, I can remorselessly say that the critically acclaimed trilogy is not only overrated, but fails to capture the raw, intimate, ball-gripping intensity of Puzo’s literature. Would also recommend his other novels, such as ‘The Family’.
‘How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia’ by Mohsin Hamid
Contrary to the title’s superficial connotations, this coming-of-age novel felt like a mother’s cuddle: warm, familiar and nostalgic. The protagonist’s voice is unembellished, effortlessly witty and so human that a sociopath would finish the book with his / her emotions back in tact. Gets you thinking about life, ambition, family and love - all in 250 pages.
‘Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery, and Billion-Dollar Deals’ by John Lefevre
Authored by the man behind the notorious ‘Goldman Sachs Elevator’ Twitter account (https://twitter.com/gselevator?lang=en), this incessantly entertaining and equally obnoxious kaleidoscope into the world of investment banking is well worth your time whether or not you’re considering a career in finance. Lefevre’s anecdotes will leave you thinking the Wolf of Wall Street was child’s play.
It’s tricky to pick but here are my top 5:
- How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie.
I’ve seen this pop up on a few people’s top 5 lists, and for good reason - it’s a fantastic manual for developing your inter-personal skills, which helps you in every single area of life.
- Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad.
No other book I’ve ever read has described the human condition quite so well. It’s a tough read, but so worth it.
- Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.
One of the most entertaining yet educational books I’ve ever read. I never knew I wanted to know what school teachers and sumo wrestlers had in common, but boy is it interesting! One of the main factors in giving me my passion for Economics.
- The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I’ve never personally connected with a book in quite the same way I did with this one. It taught me so much about who I am (sounds cheesy but true!)
- Never Split the Difference, by Chris Voss.
Chris is a former FBI hostage negotiator and, in this book, teaches you how to get anything you want from anyone! The tips are transferable to any situation and work incredibly well if you apply them.
These are just the top 5 - feel free to message me if you want any more recommendations!
In no particular order:
Fahrenheit 451 - one of my favorite dystopian novels of all time, and one with a central message that many people often get wrong. It’s not about the coerced censorship of books, but how mass media made people not want to read books anymore. A quick, powerful read.
Brave New World - in the same vein, Huxley predicted a society where people aren’t controlled by inflicting pain (such as in 1984), but inflicting pleasure. Eerily accurate in today’s society of pleasure and distractions.
Siddhartha - an interesting and beautifully written novel detailing the spiritual journey of a man named Siddhartha, from one of extreme asceticism to a life in the flesh, and back. Makes you really rethink your relationship within the world around you.
Ishmael - another concise, easy philosophical read detailing the difference between the “Leavers” and the “Takers” and how our current way of life only spells an accelerating demise of our environment unless we change the way we live. Also features a talking gorilla, so there’s that!
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - speaks to a lot of intersecting interests of mine - medicine, molecular biology, medical ethics, race, and socioeconomic divide - through the story of a woman whose cancer cells were found to be able to divide indefinitely, changing the field of medical research.
A few books everyone should read.
- Le Petit Prince
Worth learning french just for the original manuscript.
Second only to the bible, this book holds the world record for the most languages translated and published in. I believe the secret to world peace lies in reading at least 5 different language versions of this book.
- The House that Jack Built
Jack Ma’s autobiography
Let Jack teach you about the importance of failure.
Today is horrible, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be beautiful. The problem is most people will die tonight.
- The Lord of the Rings
Why read this? If you can get through this, then you’ll have acquired the perseverance to get through anything.
Warning: 100 pages of reading walking trees talk about dull subjects that have absolutely no plot value.
The rest of it is pretty great though.
This is a tough question, as it depends on the genre. I think if I had to choose from a list of self-help non fiction books that changed my thinking, it would be:
- Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell: Great insight into the inner workings of human behavior and motivations
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl: Discussing how we cannot avoid suffering but we can learn to cope with it and how to overcome the greatest difficulties through reflection and acceptance.
- Seven Habits of Highly Effective people by Stephen Covey: Great book about time management and setting priorities!
- The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin: Interesting discussion about proactively seeking happiness and taking life into your own hands
- Good to Great by Jim Collins: Examining the reasons why companies succeed
The suggestions above are all ones I’ve noted down - although I probably have too many books on the go to get to them anytime soon. Also… these are by no means the top 5… there are far too many to list out but here is a variety of fiction and non-fiction.
Empire, Niall Fergusson - this book was the primary focus of my personal statement to University. It was the first real history book I had read that brought the relevance on the subject in a way that I hadn’t managed to acquire from general high school education. In hindsight, it also is the book that I reverted back to at University to unpick and disagree with.
A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry - want to get a greater understanding of India with all it’s political and social complexities? Mistry is incredible at dissecting this for you and his characters will leave you thinking, laughing and crying. This is a beautiful novel from start to finish.
The Whitsun Weddings, Philip Larkin which is technically not a book but a collection of poems… This collection is full of thoughts of humanity, Larkin just is one of those poets with a real unique slant on things.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest, Ken Kesey better known for the film than as a novel although I couldn’t comment on the former. This is a fun, light read but very subtly profound in its message. Well to me at least.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink I was recommended this by someone very close after I complained endlessly about the seemingly disinteresting jobs I had in my early 20s. Why would no one understand me? I read this book on holiday, in under an hour, turning each page and it inspired me to keep pushing on with my professional ambitions.
I’ve only read number 5 on this list. - “The reason why there are so few great companies is because there are so many good ones.” Good is what distracts you from Greatness
25 of my favourite books!! Some have already been mentioned. Enjoy!!
- Psycho-Cybernetics, A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life – Maltz, Maxwell
- Contagious: Why Things Catch On – Berger, Jonah
- How to Win Friends and Influence People – Carnegie, Dale
- Outliers: The Story of Success – Gladwell, Malcolm
- Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny! – Robbins, Anthony
- Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything – Levitt, Steven D.
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Cain, Susan
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change – Covey, Stephen R.
- The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference – Gladwell, Malcolm
- Man’s Search for Meaning – Frankl, Viktor E.
- The Last Lecture – Pausch, Randy
- Steve Jobs – Isaacson, Walter
- Daily Rituals: How Artists Work – Currey, Mason
- Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average – Hallinan, Joseph T.
- Do the Work – Pressfield, Steven
- The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles – Pressfield, Steven
- Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration – Catmull, Ed
- The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results – Keller, Gary
- Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative – Kleon, Austin
- Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered – Kleon, Austin
- Leaders Eat Last – Sinek, Simon
- Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success – Snow, Shane
- The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help – Palmer, Amanda
- Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction – Philip E. Tetlock, Dan Gardner
- Thinking, Fast And Slow – Daniel Kahneman