“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…the man who never reads lives only one.”
– George R.R. Martin
Other than perhaps sleeping, eating healthy, and exercising, reading is the most important thing a human being can do. Reading is how we supply our brain with information, and what is existence but an endless stream of information?
The saying goes that we are what we eat. To wit: a person will be fat if they constantly eat huge amounts of low quality food.
Well, here’s my corollary to that: what we read determines how we think. A person’s intellectual capacity will be woefully lacking if they constantly read shallow supermarket tabloids, or nothing at all. Their capacity for advanced thought will wither on the vine if their mind is starved of useful information.
If, on the other hand, a person reads lots of books containing useful information about the true nature of existence, they will mold their mind into a formidable organ for manipulating reality in a productive manner.
I was fortunate to discover this truth for myself at an early age. I’ve read more books than I can possibly count, and they’ve given me the mental agility to navigate this complicated world.
I want you to have the tools that these books have given me. The titles below are my favorites—each one has changed my life, some in profound ways. I cannot recommend them highly enough. Enjoy!
Author: Robert Greene
I’m going to start off with my favorite writer of all time—Robert Greene. Put simply, Robert’s ability to derive essential truths out of the muck of human history is unparalleled. His books pull back the curtain and let you see what’s really going on behind the scenes. His writing will help you wherever you might find yourself: at a bar, on a battlefield, in an argument with your significant other, or in lonesome mediation.
48 Laws of Power – This was Robert’s first book, and it remains his most influential. It is a primer on human interaction, and it distills the process by which people gain and lose power. A quick Google search will tell you that this book has been widely read by the rich and famous—among them Calvin Harris, Jay Z, and Fidel Castro. You will find this book invaluable, whether you’re dealing drugs on the street or negotiating a deal in a corporate boardroom.
The Art of Seduction – Robert’s second book deals with the soft form of power: seduction. To Robert, seduction isn’t just about sex, though if that’s what you’re after, this book is where you should start. Seduction is about getting what you want while making your target think it was all their idea. From Cleopatra to Casanova to Marilyn Monroe and JFK, Robert uses real-life examples from history to illustrate how getting what you want is really about inflaming the emotions and desires of those around you.
The 33 Strategies of War – Sometimes seduction doesn’t work and you have to take what you want. This book gives you the strategies to do exactly that. Drawing on the careers of some of history’s greatest generals, Robert transforms the abstract into the practical. You don’t have to be Napoleon to divide and conquer your way up the corporate ladder.
Mastery – What is a genius? If there was any doubt before, this book proves that Robert Greene is one of the greatest minds of our time. Most people think that geniuses are just born that way, and all that we mere mortals can do is stand by in awe of their superhuman abilities. Robert’s theory is just the opposite—that geniuses are created by submitting to a rigorous process over a lengthy period of time, usually about 10 years. How can you replicate that process in your chosen field? Read this book to find out.
The 50th Law – Robert Greene’s work has broken so much ground that he caught the eye of the one and only 50 Cent. “Fifty,” as Robert calls him, proposed that they write a book together, chronicling Curtis Jackson’s rise from thuggish street hustler to worldwide icon. This book wraps all of Robert’s other works into a nice bow and shows you how to apply what you’ve learned in the real world.
The Laws of Human Nature – Robert’s newest book is scheduled to come out in the fall of 2018, and I have already pre-ordered it. From the description: “Robert Greene is a master guide for millions of readers, distilling ancient wisdom and philosophy into essential texts for seekers of power, understanding and mastery. Now he turns to the most important subject of all - understanding people's drives and motivations, even when they are unconscious of them themselves.”
I enjoy fiction when the mood strikes, but in general why bother with the imaginary when real history can be just as wild and entertaining? These three are the most entertaining biographies I’ve ever read.
Steve Jobs (by Walter Issacson) – Three things about Steve Jobs are certain: he was a genius, he was an asshole, and he changed modern life as we know it. What made him tick? As usual, Walter Isaacson has the answers. The Aaron Sorkin/Michael Fassbender movie based on this biography was fantastic, and the book itself is even better.
Napoleon (by Andrew Roberts) – Napoleon is arguably the greatest man to have ever lived. Time magazine ranked him second only to Jesus in its list of the 100 most significant figures in human history. At a time when there was no such thing as upward mobility, Napoleon rose from the middle class to found an empire on the back of self-made brilliance and a tireless work ethic. Though vilified by many, Andrew Roberts paints Napoleon in a heroic light in this monumental, thrilling work.
Caesar: Life of a Colossus (by Adrian Goldsworthy) – Julius Caesar was one of Napoleon’s heroes, and rightfully so. Caesar’s accomplishments speak for themselves: conqueror of modern-day France, lover of Cleopatra, and first Roman Emperor. The modern world conceives of Caesar as an old man with a laurel wreath on his bald head, but Goldsworthy shows us that he was a brave, vibrant, charismatic man whose brilliance founded the greatest empire the world has ever known.
What does it mean to exist? What is the nature of reality? Why are we here? These books may not be able to answer that question for you, but they’ll certainly give you a nudge in the right direction.
Meditations – This book by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius is a one-stop-shop for coming to terms with your life and living it in a enlightened fashion. Anything that both Ryan Holiday and Hannibal Lector approve of is something you should check out as well.
The Prophet – In my opinion this is the greatest thing ever written. It is both more poetic than all other philosophy and more philosophical than all other poetry. It is a work of art and covers all aspects of the human condition, from love to marriage to commerce to beauty…all the way to death. If nothing else I say leaves a mark on you, hopefully this will: read The Prophet and thank me later.
The Prince – Though the name of its author has become synonymous with the sinister machinations of power, The Prince is a treasure trove of practical philosophy and realistic advice for the organization of a society. It is one of the founding texts of modern political science. Once you have overcome your youthful idealism and yearn for a source of practical advice on how to manipulate events to your own ends, check out Machiavelli’s The Prince. To quote the author himself, “for each change always leaves a dovetail into which another will fit.”
The Art of War – Many people will quote Sun Tzu’s magnum opus; few have actually read it. When he wrote this more than five centuries before the birth of Jesus (about 2,500 years ago), Sun Tzu became the intellectual godfather of all who came after him—from Machiavelli to Robert Greene. Despite the title, this book will teach you so much more than how to conquer your enemies—it will teach you how to conquer life.
Guns, Germs, and Steel - Have you ever wondered why some countries are rich and other countries are poor? This book is the answer you're looking for. Bill Gates says it "lays a foundation for understanding human history." What more could you want in a book?
Business and Investing
The Little Book that Beats the Market (Joel Greenblatt) – You’re probably not a stock market genius, and neither am I. That’s why we’re both here and not on Wall Street eating hundred dollar pieces of sushi. This book is all you need to know when it comes to investing. Greenblatt’s formula is as simple as it gets: buy stock in good companies when they’re undervalued and sell when they’re overvalued. This book is short and after a day or two of reading you’ll be able to set up a portfolio that will beat the market for the next three decades.
Moneyball (Michael Lewis) – This book is ostensibly about the Oakland A’s baseball team and how they won more games than the Yankees with a fraction of the payroll. But it’s not really about that. In fact, it’s very similar to Greenblatt’s book. At its core, Moneyball is all about buying undervalued assets, selling them when they’re overvalued, and pocketing the profit.
The Big Short (Michael Lewis) – Ever wondered just what the hell happened to the economy in 2008-2009? Well, it’s complicated as hell but Michael Lewis has an answer: reckless people made risky bets with obscene amounts of money. Michael Lewis explains it all in vivid detail, and he tells us about the handful of people who saw the crisis coming in slow motion and had the courage to be contrarian and bet against the scoundrels that almost dumped the world into a second Great Depression. This book should teach you to keep your head down, hedge your bets, and say no when con-men offer you fool’s gold.
How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age (Dale Carnegie) – There are lots of books that claim to be the next big thing. They’ll say that the secrets for success are A, B, C and the process for transforming yourself is as simple as 1, 2, and 3. They’re all just copying Dale Carnegie. How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age is a modernization of Dale Carnegie’s original bestseller that was first published in 1936. It does not promise you overnight success if you smile more, but it does promise you happiness if you are a genuine, hard working person who does the right thing. Because that’s the truth.