10 Books That Helped Me Live Smarter In My 20s
#6 was a doozy.
One thing people tell me a lot that is odd is that I’m “smart for my age”.
This is a weird thing to say because 1—intelligence and age are not correlated, and 2—I’m not that smart.
Not that long ago, I put a coffee pot in the microwave and was confused when it lit on fire.
Like I said—I’m not your boy genius.
However, I am a hard worker. I have made an effort to learn and get smarter—in all areas of my life.
One of the best ways that I’ve done this has been threw reading, which I started to really enjoy around the time I turned 20.
I read everything.
Nietzsche. Frankl. Musashi. Hemingway. Shakespeare. I’ve read a lot of really challenging books. In the last 5 years (since I turned 20), I’ve read close to 100 books. 20 books a year ain’t bad for me.
I’m not the fastest reader in the world, but I retain what I read.
Here are the 10 books that have most impacted my life, my mindset, and my approach to my goals.
The Almanac of Naval Ravikant — Eric Jorgensen
There are probably better thinkers on finding happiness than investor and AngelList founder Naval Ravikant. There are better sources for financial advice than Naval.
In fact, The Almanack of Naval Ravikant isn’t even written by Naval Ravikant. It’s just a collection of his ideas.
However, what I love about this book is the simplicity with which the complex ideas are articulated.
Naval makes being happy simple. He makes making money simple. He makes life simple.
As someone who struggled with a lot of anxiety for many years, this changed my perspective a lot.
The ADHD Advantage — Dale Archer
I get too excited and have a hard time controlling my excited energy. I say stupid things. I fidget. I forget the important stuff sometimes.
I lost everything.
I get shiny object syndrome.
For the longest time, I thought that this made me stupid, incapable, and deeply flawed.
The ADHD Advantage helped me find ways to take my “flaws” and turn them into my strengths.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra — Friedrich Nietzsche
This is another book that I’m not sure I’d recommend to most people, but it’s jam-packed with information and full of ideas that at the time of its writing were revolutionary.
It’s a slow, arduous read, but it also gives you the foundation to explore some very deep and complex philosophy.
For me, Thus Spoke Zarathustra was one of the first philosophy books I ever seriously read. After I read it, the 2 books I’m about to get into below insanely felt easy to follow and learn from.
Don’t be afraid to jump into the deep end.
The Book of 5 Rings — Miyamoto Musashi
I first heard about The Book of 5 Rings on a Tim Ferriss podcast when I was like 19, but I didn’t actually open it until I was almost 24.
As a martial artist, this book is really interesting. Essentially, it’s a training manual for how to become a highly effective samurai.
It teaches you how to win fights, but you’re not supposed to read it that way.
Instead, you have to think about the book abstractly.
“The Way of the sword” as Musashi describes it in the book isn’t just a way of building great skill in sword fighting. The principles in the book are fundamental for building skills in any area of your life.
“If you know the way broadly you will see it in everything.”― Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of 5 Rings
Man’s Search For Meaning — Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor, writer, psychologist, and philosopher. He was an incredible man.
Man’s Search For Meaning is undeniably his best work.
The incredible thing about Man’s Search For Meaning is the way that it attempts to blend psychology with philosophy in order to give the reader a practical way to overcome their suffering. I’ve written entire articles about “logotherapy” — the therapy technique that Frankl specialized in during his work as a psychologist, and I think that a lot of people could get a lot of value from reading it.
I’m not a mental health professional or a psychologist, but I feel very strongly that Man’s Search For Meaning should be required reading for every young person.
The Gulag Archipelago — Alexander Solzhenitsyn
I almost didn’t include this book on this list because it took me 6 months to read it cover to cover.
The Gulag Archipelago is without a doubt the hardest book I’ve ever read, but it’s incredibly important.
I honestly don’t know if I even recommend it to people — it was that hard for me. I do know that reading the book impacted me deeply and changed the way that I see the world.
There’s so much happening in the world that you don’t know about. The Gulag Archipelago humbled the way I view reality. History is insanely powerful to learn about from the eyes of someone who has experienced it directly.
Life’s Golden Ticket — Brendon Burchard
Some of the books on this list made me cry.
Others made me feel good.
Life’s Golden Ticket did both.
This is a novel about living a better life, being more authentic, and most importantly for me, speaking up for myself. This is something that I struggled with a lot, and it’s also something that the novel’s narrator struggles with.
Imagine if you had a second chance in life.
What would you do differently?
The Alchemist — Paulo Coehlo
The Alchemist is a wildly popular “self-help” book, but I still like it and it still had a great impact on me when I read it.
The story is simple, easy to follow, and insanely easy to extract lessons from. It’s not like The Gulag Archipelago or Thus Spoke Zarathustra (some of the more complex books on the list), it’s simple.
I read the book a few years back when I was about 20, and I always think fondly of the time that I spent sitting on the train with a fresh cup of coffee on my way to school, reading about Santiago’s journey to find his personal legend.
It’s a great book.
“It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary; only wise men are able to understand them.” — Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist
Siddhartha — Herman Hesse
Inspirational fiction is my favorite genre, and Siddhartha is probably my favorite inspirational fiction book that I’ve read to date.
As someone who’s always had a complicated relationship with spirituality, it was refreshing to read Siddhartha because the book’s title character feels that same speculation. He wrestles internally and with the people in his life for decades until he finally figures out just what “peace” means to him.
This book doesn’t force you to think any certain way. It merely uses stories to suggest intellectual frameworks that can help you.
“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
Flow — Mihali Csikszentmihalyi
The first time I experienced a “flow state”, I was 14 years old on the soccer field for my freshmen soccer team.
I was having a great game, and I felt “in the zone”.
It would be nearly 10 years before I’d read something that would help me figure out exactly what it was that I experienced.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, essentially analyzes what makes humans feel “present” and “in the zone”. It teaches you what happens when you’re in a flow state, how you can experience more flow states, and how you can get yourself into a flow state more effectively.
It’s a great book for anyone trying to do anything well — which is essentially all of us.
Reading alone isn’t enough to have a better life.
Knowledge alone doesn’t make you successful. I know plenty of people are incredibly smart and also incredibly miserable.
Don’t be like that.
If you read every book on happiness and you do nothing, you’re still miserable. Knowledge is just a piece of the equation.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is knowing that you shouldn’t eat tomatoes like apples because that’s weird and messy.
Anyway — I digress.
Hopefully, these 10 books will help you be happier, smarter, and more thoughtful — wherever you are in life.
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