Books To Base Your Life on (The Reading List)

“I’m not saying that you have to be a reader to save your soul in the modern world. I’m saying it helps.” Walter Mosley

I’ve always devoured books. Why, exactly, I’m not sure. Obviously a big reason to read is because it’s fun. As Petrarch, a famous book lover observed some 700 years ago, “books give delight to the very marrow of one’s bones.” But if I was honest, I would say the real reason that I’ve spent so much time with my nose inside this book or that book is because I have been searching for something: a way to life. There is a Latin expression: liber medicina animi (a book is the soul’s medicine). That’s what I’ve been after.

My whole life and career, I’ve been seeking out, reading, and taking notes on books that can teach me things. How to live. How to learn. How to find happiness. How to understand the past. How to prepare for the future. How to succeed. How to manage relationships. How to be a good person.

I used to go around and ask every smart person I met—even emailing important people I didn’t know— “What books do you recommend to a kid like me?” That’s how I was introduced to the Stoics. That’s how I found many of the books on the list below. The quake books—as Tyler Cowen put it—that shake you to your core. Having been introduced to them by those kind, patient individuals, I thought I would pay it forward by putting together a list of the books that have shaken up my life and that have helped make me the person that I am. It’s a list that has changed over time—and will continue to change—but it’s a good enough place to start.

Pick one of them up and let it lead you to another. And then when you come to a dead end, come back to the list. And don’t forget to sign up for my Reading List Email which recommends a new set of life changing books each month.

Books to Base Your Life On

The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius To me, this is not only one of greatest books ever written but perhaps the only book of its kind. Just imagine: the private thoughts of the most powerful man in the world, admonishing himself on how to be better, more just, more immune to temptation, wiser. It is the definitive text on self-discipline, personal ethics, humility, self-actualization and strength. If you read it and aren’t profoundly changed by it, it’s probably because as Aurelius says “what doesn’t transmit light creates its own darkness.” You HAVE to read the Hays’s translation. If you end up loving Marcus, go get The Inner Citadel and Philosophy as a Way of Life by Pierre Hadot that studies the man (and men) behind the work. And if you want more on the topic, Marcus inspired my book The Obstacle is the Way.

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca After Marcus Aurelius, this is one of my favorite books. While Marcus wrote mainly for himself, Seneca had no trouble advising and aiding others. In fact, that was his job—he was Nero’s tutor, tasked with reducing the terrible impulses of a terrible man. His advice on grief, on wealth, on power, on religion, and on life are always there when you need them. Seneca’s letters are the best place to start, but the essays in On the Shortness of Life are excellent as well. You can draw a pretty straight line from Seneca to the essays of Montaigne (also read: How To Live, a biography of Montaigne) to the modern day writings of Nassim Nicholas Taleb (read: The Black Swan, Fooled By Randomness and The Bed of Procrustes).

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl Frankl is one of the most profound modern thinkers on meaning and purpose. His contribution was to change the question from the vague philosophy of “What is the meaning of life?” to man being asked and forced to answer with his actions. He looks at how we find purpose by dedicating ourselves to a cause, learning to love and finding a meaning to our suffering. His other two books on the topic, Will To Meaning and Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning have gems in them as well.

48 Laws of Power and Mastery by Robert Greene There is no living writer (or person) who has been more influential to me than Robert Greene. I met him when I was 19 years old and he’s shaped me as a person, as a writer, as a thinker. You MUST read his books. His work on power and strategy are critical for anyone trying to accomplish anything. In life, power is force we are constantly bumping up against. People have power of over us, we seek power ourselves that we might be free enough and influential enough to accomplish our goals—so we must understand where power comes from, how it works and how to get it. But pure power is meaningless. It must be joined to mastery and purpose. So read his book Mastery so that you can figure your life’s task and how to dedicate yourself to it.

Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son by George Horace Lorimer and Letters to His Son by Lord Chesterfield These two books of letters are great—I wish my father had written me stuff this good. The first book is the (supposedly) preserved correspondence between Old Gorgon Graham, a self-made millionaire in Chicago, and his son who is coming of age and entering the family business. The letters date back to the 1890s but feel like they could have been written in any era. Honest. Genuine. Packed with good advice. Chesterfield wrote his letters to his illegitimate son, tutoring him on how to learn, how to think, how to act, how to deal with important people. I don’t agree with all his advice but most of it is great.

Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation by Tyler Cowen In terms of business/economics, this is one of the more important books I’ve read in a long time. I even keep a framed passage from it on my wall (it also inspired the a piece of writing I am proud of). Cowen’s books have always been thought provoking, but this one changes how you see the future and help explain real pain points in our new economy–both good and bad. Although much of what Cowen proposes will be uncomfortable, he has a tone that borders on cheerful. I think that’s what makes this so convincing and so eye opening. A hollowing out is coming and you’ve got to prepare yourself (and our institutions) as best you can.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed and Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott It was wonderful to read these two provocative books of essays by two incredibly wise and compassionate women. Cheryl Strayed, also the author of Wild, was the anonymous columnist behind the online column, Dear Sugar and boy, are we better off for it. This is not a random smattering of advice. This book contains some of the most cogent insights on life, pain, loss, love, success, youth that I have ever seen. I won’t belabor the point: read this book. Thank me later. Anne Lamott’s book is ostensibly about the art of writing, but really it too is about life and how to tackle the problems, temptations and opportunities life throws at us. Both will make you think and both made me a better person.

The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh A few years ago, I read The Education of a Coach, a book about Bill Belichick which influenced me immensely (coincidentally, the Patriots have also read my book and were influenced by it). Anyway, I have been chasing that high ever since. Bill Walsh’s book certainly met that high standard. Even if you’ve never watched a down of football, you’ll get something out of this book. Walsh took the 49ers from the worst team in football to the Super Bowl in less than 3 years. How? Not with a grand vision or pure ambition, but with what he called the Standard of Performance. That is: How to practice. How to dress. How to hold the ball. Where to be on a play down the very inch. Which skills mattered for each position. How much effort to give. By upholding these standards—whatever they happen to be for your chosen craft—success will take care of itself.

Fiction

I don’t read fiction for fun—I try to read novels that express some fundamental part of the human condition or some hard won truth. I hope you’ll enjoy these (though for a fuller list, read my article on the 24 Fiction Books That Can Change Your Life).

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk I’m amazed how many young people haven’t read this book. Truly life-changing. This is the classic of my generation; it is the book that defines our age and ultimately, how to find meaning in it. It’s a cautionary tale too—about being too caught up in revolutionary ideas.

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy The Moviegoer is exactly the novel that every young kid stuck in their own head needs to read. The main character—who lives in New Orleans just a few blocks from where I lived—is so in love with the artificiality of movies that he has trouble living his actual life. The Moviegoer—it is like a good Catcher in the Rye but for adults. Just a perfect book. An equal cautionary tale: The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe.

What Makes Sammy Run? and The Harder They Fall  Budd Schulberg Budd Schulberg’s (who wrote the screenplay for On the Waterfront) whole trilogy is amazing and each captures a different historical era. His first, What Makes Sammy Run? is Ari Gold before Ari Gold existed–purportedly based on Samuel Goldwyn (of MGM) and Darryl Zanuck. His next book, The Harder They Fall is about boxing and loosely based on the Primo Carnera scandal. All you need to know about Schulberg’s writing is captured in this quote from his obituary: “It’s the writer’s responsibility to stand up against that power. The writers are really almost the only ones, except for very honest politicians, who can make any dent on that system. I tried to do that. And that’s affected me my whole life.” Fiction can do that, and sometimes it does it even better than non-fiction.

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler What a book. It’s not as good as What Makes Sammy Run but it’s so damn good. “A boy can be two, three, four potential people,” Duddy’s uncle tells him, “but a man is only one. He murders the others.” Which potential person will you be? Which part of you will you allow to rule? The part that betrays your friends, family, principles to achieve success? Or are there other priorities?

Some other novels I like: Civil War Stories by Ambrose Bierce, Company K by William March and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.

Biographies

One of my favorite categories of books: moral biographies. That is, the stories of great men and women in history, written with an eye towards practical application and advice.

Plutarch’s Lives by Plutarch Clearly the master of this genre, Plutarch wrote biographies of famous Greeks and Romans around the year 100 AD. As always, I tend to default to the Penguin collections. I strongly recommend Plutarch’s Lives Vol. I & II, Essays, and The Makers of Rome: Nine Lives. His book On Sparta is also a collection of biographies (and aphorisms) from the famous Spartans. There is a reason that Shakespeare based many of his plays on Plutarch—not only are they well-written and exciting but they exhibit everything that is good and bad about the human condition. Greed, love, pain, hate, success, selflessness, leadership, stupidity—it’s all there.

The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects by Giorgio Vasari A friend and peer of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael Titian and all the other great minds of the Renaissance sat down in 1550 and wrote biographical sketches of the people he knew or had influenced him. What I like about this book is that the profiles are not about statesmen or generals but artists. There are so many great lessons about craft and psychology within this book. The best part? It was written by someone who actually knew what he was talking about, not some art snob or critic, but an actual artist and architect of equal stature to the people he was documenting.

Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi The book has sold something like 5 million copies in Japan alone (an insane number). Totto-Chan is a special figure in modern Japanese culture—she is a celebrity on par with Oprah or Ellen, with a magazine, news show and exalted position to boot. The book describes a childhood in pre-WWII Japan as a poorly misunderstood girl who obviously suffered from attention disorders and excess energy. It wasn’t until she met a special school principal—unlike any I have ever heard of—who finally GOT her. And I mean understood and cared about and unconditionally supported her in a way that both inspires me and makes me deeply jealous. If only all of us could be so lucky…

Titan by Ron Chernow I found Rockefeller to be strangely stoic, incredibly resilient, and, despite his reputation as a robber baron, humble and compassionate. Most people get worse as they get successful, many more get worse as they age. In fact, Rockefeller began tithing his money with his first job and gave more of it away as he became successful. He grew more open-minded the older he became, more generous, more pious, more dedicated to making a difference.

The Power Broker by Robert Caro It took me 15 days to read all 1,165 pages of this monstrosity that chronicles the rise of Robert Moses. I was 20 years old. It was one of the most magnificent books I’ve ever read. Moses built just about every other major modern construction project in New York City. The public couldn’t stop him, the mayor couldn’t stop him, the governor couldn’t stop him, and only once could the President of the United States stop him. But ultimately, you know where the cliché must take us. Robert Moses was an asshole. He may have had more brain, more drive, more strategy than other men, but he did not have more compassion. And ultimately power turned him into something monstrous.

Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American by B.H Liddell Hart This was someone I knew little about before I read the book, and by the end of it found myself referencing and thinking of him constantly. It is equal parts due to the greatness of the man himself and to Hart’s vivid and engrossing portrait. I almost feel like I have lost something not having known this of him my whole life. There is a stunningly profound quote from Hart in the book that I’ll paraphrase here that defines his genius: Sherman’s success was rooted in his grasp that the way to success is strategically along the line of least expectation and tactically along the line of least resistance. It is that kind of thinking that immediately displaces any preceding notions about Sherman’s reputation as a general or a legend. All these myths belies his strategic acumen, his mastery of terrain and his deep understanding of statesmanship and politics. There is much to learn from the man and this biographer—who himself was a great strategist and mind.

Some others:

My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, two of the most inspiring men of the last 150 years. (also in this vein, My Life and Battles by Jack Johnson and Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington)
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. Dr. Drew recommended this book to me, it is spectacular. He’s my favorite president.
The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen The book sucked me in completely. Everyone I’ve recommended it to loves it.
Asylum: An Alcoholic Takes the Cure and No Hiding Place by William Seabrook (I actually ended up helping get Asylum back in print if you want to hear that story)
For more biography recommendations from me, see this list.

Practical Philosophy

I don’t believe that philosophy is something for the classroom–it’s something that helps you with life. As Epicurus put it: “Vain is the word of the philosopher which does not heal the suffering of man.” I’ve already recommended a couple of practical philosophy books in different sections but a couple more worth reading:

The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus A Syrian slave in the first century BC, Publius Syrus is a fountain of quick, helpful wisdom that you cannot help but recall and apply to your life. “Rivers are easiest to cross at their source.” “Want a great empire? Rule over yourself.” “Divide the fire and you will sooner put it out.”

Essays and Aphorisms by Arthur Schopenhauer Schopenhauer is a brilliant composer of quick thoughts that will help us with our problems. His work was often concerned with the “will”–our inner drives and power. “For that which is otherwise quite indigestible, all affliction, vexation, loss, grief, time alone digests.” But he also talks about surprisingly current issues: “Newspapers are the second hand of history”–and that the hand is often broken or malfunctioning. And of course, the timeless as well: “Hope is the confusion of the desire for a thing for its probability.”

Fragments by Heraclitus While most of the other practical philosophy recommendations I’m making are bent towards hard, practical advice, Heraclitus might seem a bit poetic. But those beautiful lines are really the same direct advice and timeless, perspective-changing observations as the others. “Try in vain with empty talk / to separate the essences of things / and say how each thing truly is.” “Applicants for wisdom / do what I have done: / inquire within.” “Character is fate.” “What eyes witness / ears believe on hearsay.” “The crops are sold / for money spent on food.”

War/Strategy Books

Rules for Radicals and Reveille for Radicals Saul D. Alinsky This is the 48 Laws of Power written in more of an idealist, activist tone. Alinsky was the liaison for many civil rights, union and student causes in the late 50’s and 60’s. He teaches how to implement your radical agenda without using radical tactics, how to disarm with words and media as opposed to arms and Utopian rhetoric.

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram Boyd was probably the greatest post-WWII military strategist; he developed the F-15 and F-16, revolutionized ground tactics in war and covertly designed the US battle plans for the Gulf War. He shunned wealth, fame, and power all to accomplish what he felt needed to be accomplished. Coram captures his essence in a way that no other author has touched.

Of course you also need to read 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene, The Book of Five Rings by Musashi, The Strategy Paradox by Raynor, Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Von Clausewitz’ On War. In terms of classics, The History of the Peloponnesian War is an obligation for every student of history.

For a whole list of books on the US Civil War, start here. For a more complete list of recommendations see my list of 43 Books About War and 24 Books To Hone Your Strategic Mind.

Evolutionary Psychology

As important as philosophy and moral fiction are, they’re just ideas if they’re not counterbalanced with an understanding of our biology and psychology.

The Moral Animal by Robert Wright This is probably the definitive beginner text on evolutionary psychology and one of the easiest to get into. It’s a little depressing at first, realizing how ruthless many of our so called “good” feelings are. But then you realize that truth is better than ignorance, and you emerge seeing the world as it truly is for the first time. Also, a similar read is Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, which is more of a Q&A approach to the subject and has contemporary edge.

Sex on the Brain by Deborah Blum One of the better books on evolutionary biology that focuses almost entirely on the biological and psychological differences between men and women. It’s written by a journalist (who cites scientists) so it’s easy to read if you’re not studied in the field. If you want to get into evolutionary psychology–which you totally should–this is a good starting point because it covers all the basics. Essentially, it discusses how men and women have benefited evolutionarily through different behaviors and strengths so it would only make sense that they would have developed into two very different entities.

I would also recommend: The Game by Neil Strauss (as well as The Truth), The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, The Evolution of Desire by David Buss, and the The Origins of Virtue by Matt Ridley which asserts that we had morality before religion, trade before capitalism and cooperation before government.

The Internet

Instead of giving descriptions for these, I’m just going to list titles. You need to read ALL of them. Especially the ones marked with an *, as they are the ones the illustrate the darker side of the web.

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky
Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization* by John Robb
The Pirate’s Dilemma by Matt Mason
You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto* by Jaron Lanier
The New New Thing by Michael Lewis
Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston (interviews with technology founders from one of the best investors of all time)
The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom* by Evgeny Morozov
Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age by Paul Graham (or you can read his essays here)
Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott
The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by Eric S Raymond

Narrative Non-Fiction

Some of the most pleasureable books I’ve read in my life belong in the genre of narrative non-fiction—epic true stories and sagas that are almost too good to believe.

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant Holy shit, this book is good. Just holy shit. Even if it was just the main narrative—the chase to kill a man-eating Tiger in Siberia in post-communist Russia—it would be worth reading, but it is so much more than that. The author explains the Russian psyche, the psyche of man vs predator, the psyches of primitive peoples and animals, in such a masterful way that you’re shocked to find 1) that he knows this, and 2) that he fit it all into this readable and relatively short book. The story is nuts: a tiger starts killing people in Russia and a team is sent to kill it (Russia is so fucked up, they already have a team for this). At one point, the tiger is cornered and leaps to attack the team leader…and in mid-air the soldier’s rifle goes into the tigers open jaws and down his throat all the way to the stock, killing the tiger at the last possible second. Wow. (His other book The Golden Spruce is also great)

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard I thought I knew about Theodore Roosevelt. This book opens with him stranded in the Amazon jungle begging his son to let him kill himself so he wouldn’t be a burden on their exploring party any longer. And then it gets better from there. I mean, did you know he is credited with being the first to chart and navigate a totally unknown river as long as the Nile? And that he did that after he was President, just for fun? I’m not sure I need to explain much else, but if you needed more convincing, I will say that Candice Millard who wrote Destiny of the Republic (which I highly recommend) wrote this too and it’s better than her last book. Not only is there a bunch of great history and drama here, it shows a human side of Roosevelt I had not understood before.

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing 50 plus years old, this is a story that more than stands the test of time. Sir Ernest Shackleton makes his daring attempt to cross Antarctic continent but his crew and boat are trapped in the ice flows. What follows are 600 days of harrowing survival, first from the elements, then from hunger, then from the sea as he makes a daring attempt in a small lifeboat to reach land 650 miles away, then again as he struggles over land and mountains to bring relief to his men. And when he finally arrives with it, Shackleton simply boards them on the boat and returns home as if nothing had happened. He was an immensely brave man in the midst of terrible adversity and we see this so clearly in a book based on the remarkable diaries of his men. He never quit, never seemed to despair. This book (and his life) were living proof of his family motto: “Fortitudine vincimus” (By endurance we conquer).

Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson This book is a work of art. It is like The Tiger-good. A diver (whose life principles we can all learn from) and a ship captain find the wreck of an unknown German U-Boat in 1991…on the coast of New Jersey. That’s a thing? Apparently. And they spend the next five years diving the wreck 230+ feet underwater until they identify it. This book is narrative nonfiction writing at its finest. Please read.

Classics:

As you have probably gathered, I’m a bit of a nerd. I didn’t graduate from college but I still love to read the classics and I’m slowly making my way through them. I thought I’d put together a quick list that everyone should check out:

The Aeneid by Virgil (translated by Robert Fagles)  I made an effort to read some classical poets and playwrights few years ago. The Aeneid was far and away the most quotable, readable and memorable of all of them. There’s no other way to put: the story is AMAZING. Better than the Odyssey, better than Juvenal’s Satires. Inspiring, beautiful, exciting, and eminently readable, I loved this. I took more notes on it that I have on anything I’ve read in a long time. The story, for those of you who don’t know, is about the founding of Rome. Aeneas, a prince of Troy, escapes the city after the Trojan War and spends nearly a decade wandering, fighting, and trying to fulfill his destiny by making it to Italy. I definitely recommend that anyone trying to read this follow my tricks for reading books above your level (that is, spoil the ending, read the intro, study Wikipedia and Amazon reviews, etc).

Candide by Voltaire I read this book as I waited for my wedding to start. It might seem like a strange choice, given that it’s a 200 year old book mostly about unimaginable hardship, torture, death and misfortune. Somehow, despite this, the book is a light hearted satire that pokes fun at optimism, philosophy, politics, and power. In the end, Voltaire concludes, all we can do is tend to our own garden. Il faut cultiver nos jardins.

The Epic of Gilgamesh by Unknown  I read this on my honeymoon (probably the only person on the beach reading it, if I had to guess). Especially when I learned after that a new introduction paragraph had been discovered only recently. His tomb may have been found recently too. Imagine if Homer’s works had only been discovered in the mid 1800’s after being lost to history for thousands of years. How crazy would that be? Reading the classic epics can feel like work but there is value in it. These works are timeless and universal. Such a great line

“He will face a battle he knows not,

he will ride a road he knows not.”

Epigrams by Martial These are hilarious. I have one hanging on the gate in front of my house. Martial also served as a partial inspiration for my writing on the Canvas Strategy.

Hamlet by Shakespeare Philosophy runs through this play–all sorts of great lines. There are gems like “..for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” which I used in my last book and “Beware of entrance to a quarrel; but, being in, bear it, that the opposed may beware of thee.” was a favorite of Sherman.

Satires by Juvenal These are bitter, sarcastic attacks on Rome. They partially inspired my book Trust Me, I’m Lying.

I also love Seneca’s plays, Joseph Addison’s Cato, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Demosthenes and Cicero’s speeches.

******

Anyway, you don’t need anymore recommendations from me right now. Start with any of these and you’ll fall down the rabbit hole soon enough. Oh and don’t forget to follow me as I read my way through life with monthly recommendations of books like these, join the 55,000 other subscribers and sign up.

For some other lists of books from me:

My Favorite Reads of 2015
My Favorite Reads of 2014
My Favorite Reads of 2013
My Favorite Reads of 2012
My Favorite Reads of 2011
24 Books You’ve Never Heard Of But Will Change Your Life
A Practical Philosophy Reading List
43 Books About War Every Man Should Read
24 Books To Hone Your Strategic Mind
24 Fiction Books That Can Change Your Life
25 Recommendations For Life Changing Biographies For The Voracious Reader In You
13 Moral Biographies That Make You A Better Person And Teach You About Life
Loving Los Angeles: 36 Books To Help You Finally “Get” LA
36 Books Every Young and Wildly Ambitious Person Should Read

To get monthly recommendations of books like these, join the 55,000 other subscribers and sign up using the form below.

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139 responses to Books To Base Your Life on (The Reading List)

  1. Hey Ryan, just letting you know that your Tucker Reading List link no longer works.

  2. Outstanding list of books, Ryan – several of them are also on my list of “classics” (including Man’s Search for Meaning, and The New New Thing), and I will certainly pick up the rest, gradually.

    It’s refreshing to come across someone who seems a “kindred spirit”.

    Moe

  3. Great Reading list, going ot go out and get a few. Funny thing is that I have a few in my libarey.

  4. I too have been working my way through Tucker’s reading list. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is unreal. Will be sure to add your books to my list 🙂

  5. Woooooo….thanks for that compilation! I recommend ‘Mastery’ by George Leonard, if you haven’t read it already.

  6. Cannot wait to dive into these.

  7. How often do you update this, or your quotes?

  8. I’ve had an Aurelius book on my shelf for 8 years that I want to love, but the words just don’t flow for me. You helped me realize today that it’s probably the translation. I need a different translation! Thanks for the epiphany.

  9. Ryan, great list, thanks. I’d recommend Shogun, not only for the story but to witness strategy at the highest level.

  10. Ryan

    Thanks for the list. Quite a few I haven’t read. For me the best book I read in the last 2 years was Tom Peters’ The Little Big Things. It really makes you think about why we make such hard work of business. Its theme: Soft is Hard, Hard is Soft.

    Julian

  11. The most important book I’ve ever read so far is Power vs. Force by David R. Hawkins.
    His third book in that particular trilogy, I, moved me forward in life.

  12. “If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than because he was he, and I was I.” ~ Michel de Montaigne

  13. Thanks for the list, I’m trying to break out of my academic “indoctrination” and try to enjoy books for what they are again.

    I was wondering what your “ideal” reading setup was. What time of the day do you usually read, and under what kind of settings (quiet room, coffee shop with headphones, etc.)? Also, do you strictly stick with visual reading or do you try to mix in audiobooks as well (I’ve found that my eyes/brain get weary after trying to read for extended periods like >1 hour, probably means I need to take more breaks)?

    Thanks for the list.

    • Bo,

      Experiment with different places/positions/etc until you find what works for you for the amount of time you have dedicated to read.

      This is the best way to learn how to do anything. I personally find that a relatively quiet space is ideal, but adaptation is key, especially when time is limited.

      –Jacob

  14. The Mirror Effect by Dr. Drew
    – link is broken.

    Also noticed the Long Tail is gone… interesting.

  15. “Letters to a Young Contrarian” is a primer for this list, promise. Can’t believe I haven’t suggested it before now. Everyone who reads the rest of Ryan’s (well considered) list can discover and meditate on Hitchens on their own. But “Letters” is important to this theme, and politic independent.

  16. Stimulating list, if rather male-centric. 🙂 Not dogging on any of these selections/themes, just suggesting you might be surprised at what you could learn by expanding your circle of consideration in this most fundamental of ways. (But only do so if you’re seriously willing to listen.)

    Anyway, thanks for your tips for reading challenging works as published in Forbes and elsewhere. Very helpful. I plan to share.

  17. Bro…you are the 21st century Goebbels…pure compliment! Love the book and as a 50 year old man can differently learn new tricks for a young whipper snapper. I have so many questions to ask you. I live in Tampa and want to start a web site geared towards seniors and their issues…..Please any suggestions would be very appreciated…..GR8 Book!

  18. Ryan,
    I just found out about your new book release and just did a deep dive into learning about you and your gifting. So much to read and learn. Good job.

    You lost me though when I started reading your reading list. The Evolution section. You made a comment about it’s so good to be freed and finally know the truth about it all. I’m paraphrasing.

    I have a few high level degrees, dove very deep into science and evolution for my first 35 years of life and then, it was like the filters were off when I found out about the truth about the Bible and how if you study it, go to Bible Studies with other high intellect individuals you see how it’s teachings blow away so much that you think is true. I know being a Christian these days is worse than being a rapist in all media but I do have intellect and was on the other side first, and lived and partied and made a great living and did so much in life but when I was able to digest all I learned about evolution and science and math and Greek philosophy and more, and then really learned the teachings of the Bible, I found that so much of what people teach has it’s origins from the Bible. There is a reason you can read it 10 times and it mean so much more each time. No other book in the English speaking world comes close in my estimation.

    I’d love to see you go deep at the core of humanity.

    Answer me one question as well – the gurus can’t figure out how one cell split to be two. Scientists say that if you are a math buff, it would take trillions of years through natural selection for one complex amino acid to form – trillions, just for the first with all the combinations it takes for just the first most simple amino acid to form and then sustain.

    I believe that all things begin from intelligent design. Nothing you can create or do can begin without intelligent design. There is a designer out there. I’m not against evolution. It’s just unfinished science and there is a lot of fuzzy science surrounding it.

    • Mark,
      Been there done that, then read this. DARWIN’S DANGEROUS IDEA: EVOLUTION AND THE MEANINGS OF LIFE by Daniel C. Dennett.

  19. considering i have read 4 books out of the whole list you just churned out… it looks like I am destined to read the rest as well.

    Thanks.

  20. Just completed The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. Thanks for the recommendation. Well worth the time.

  21. “Meditations” is hands down my favorite book ever. I read it after my husband died and it change my outlook on life completely. I give it as gifts to people now, I love it.

  22. It seems like you know very much pertaining to this particular subject and this demonstrates throughout this amazing article, titled “RyanHoliday.
    net | Books To Base Your Life on (The Reading List)”.

    Thx -Aaron

  23. Have you read Charles Robinson’s new book “Punching the Sun” ? If not you should check it out. It’s really written to change lives.

  24. Ryan,
    I read _Sperm Wars_ based on this list.
    It is a fascinating monument to the power of rationalization rather than to the power of science.

    Please update this list to include _Sex at Dawn_ by
    Christopher Ryan, Ph.D. & Cacilda Jethá, M.D.
    http://www.sexatdawn.com/

    (Or better yet, get rid of the old EP texts and just include that one)

  25. That’s an interesting list of books, personally, I don’t read much books outside of encyclopedia’s and other research material. Though, from the things you’ve written, it appears as though there is much to learn about life from others. Learning from your own mistakes is a good lesson learnt, but learning from others mistakes, saves you the mishap.

  26. Hey Ryan,

    Great list – loved it. You may enjoy my newest book called The Wandering Leader.

    Keep up the great work!
    Dave

  27. Hey Ryan,

    awesome list, covering a lot of different aspects in life…
    Have you read the 7 habits of effective people by Stephen Covey yet? Worth the read for sure

    Also recommend Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan.

    Saludos!
    Justin

  28. Alihan Yildirim May 15, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    Hey Ryan,

    Which passage from meditations do you have above your desk!

  29. Excellent post. I was checking continuously this blog and I’m impressed!
    Extremely helpful info specially the last part 🙂 I care for such info a lot.
    I was seeking this particular information for a very long time.
    Thank you and best of luck.

  30. Even i was influenced by the book called meditations. That was an awesome one which i would love to read often. Great collection of books and authors are mentioned above. Thanks for the innovative post. Keep doing.

  31. Terrific suggestions. You’ve accomplished so much in the world of marketing at such a young age.

    Do you have book selections/ recommendations that really had an positive impact and taught you how to market at a world class level (other than your own “Trust me I’m Lying” I haven’t seen definitive book recommendations on marketing).

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Keep up the good work.
    Cheers,
    —M

  32. Hey Ryan,

    I was just wondering whether any of this list has changed recently, as I noticed that you’ve been recommending “The Power Broker” a lot on Thought Catalog but it isn’t mentioned in this list.

    Cheers,
    Felix

  33. Just what I was looking for, you seem to share the same passion for reading as i do, just heard about you and it’s been awesome so far.

  34. Book recommendation from a musician,

    I’m a musician and have been very interested in your tactics and writings (as well as Tim Ferriss, Derek Sivers and others) for the last few years. There is a book that I feel goes well with these modern ideals.
    It’s called ‘Effortless Mastery’ by Kenny Werner.
    Although it is catered to musicians its lessons are easily transferable to other walks of life. It’s helped me take my musical performance, practice and conception to an entirely different level and helped me add meditation seamlessly into my day to day life.
    Just thought I’d toss it into the book list comments, hope you enjoy it!
    Cheers
    Tom

  35. Ryan, excellent material – thank you! Can you tell me where to find the “Maker versus Manager Essays” referenced in “Trust Me, I’m Lying”? Thank You, Dave

  36. Although it wouldn’t fit in any category, I think as a “companion” of TMIL, Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Civilization should be added to the list!

  37. What religious books do you recommend?

  38. I was wondering why you’re stating you HAVE to read the Hays translation (M.Aurilius, Meditations). I’m looking at several translations, and wasn’t sure which to get, so if you could tell me what makes Hays translation stand out, it might make a choices easier/

  39. Today I see too many people reading the wrong books, or in the wrong order. Anyhow, I know of some books that I really think you would like:
    Eight Pillars of Prosperity by James Allen. In Search of the Miraculous by Ouspensky. The 22 Laws of Inner Peace by Eliphas Levi.

  40. Hey Ryan –

    There’s a lot of evidence that fiction makes you smarter in a way that non-fiction cannot (see website link at Psychology Today). There’s a time and place for both clearly, but there’s almost no fiction on this list.

    What fiction do you read? What fiction would you like to read?

  41. For anyone who’s read through your list, and also noticed that once-recommended books get replaced from time to time, it would be great if you had both a primary and a secondary list (books that got removed). Seems a shame to have such strong books go to waste. Also, I want that list.

    • Learn to use the Internet Wayback Machine, which you can use to view many websites as they were on previous years.

  42. I am so looking forward to reading most (if not all) of these books you recommend. I’ve found lately that in writing my blog and focusing on a new job, I rarely read for pleasure or self-improvement anymore, which is a terrible loss. Or, I read the same books over and over, for their comfort factor. 2016 demands variety and reading well outside of my comfort zone! I just purchased Meditations and I’m ready to go. Thank you.

  43. A very comprehensive reading list with a lot of hidden gems found within. A little bit too much on the feel good side to be honest.

    I too compiled a comprehensive reading list with short reviews on the books Machiavelli would read if he were alive today. I am sure you can find valuable suggestions for your library,

    • A very comprehensive reading list with a lot of hidden gems found within. A little bit too much on the feel good side to be honest.
      I too compiled a comprehensive reading list with short reviews on the books Machiavelli would read if he were alive today. I am sure you can find valuable suggestions for your library, Click Here

  44. It’s all so very.. Masculine. Interesting, though.

  45. “What books do books when you recommend to a kid like me?”

    is this a typo?

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  1. Reading List Email Update « RyanHoliday.net - October 12, 2010

    […] Reading List […]

  2. no leas libros, devoralos | WERNER - October 24, 2010

    […] también tiene un fantástico Reading List publicado en su blog, les sugiero revisar sus recomendaciones. Él sugiere aplicar el siguiente […]

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    […] a place to start !!! — check out Ryan Holiday’s reading list. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  5. I don’t have to lie to porn sites anymore « Lettuce Be Cereal - September 21, 2011

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  6. Hierarchy of skills « Lettuce be Cereal - November 11, 2011

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  7. John Boyd and social media marketing | Musing on Marketing - December 7, 2011

    […] planes, the E-M Theory, the USAF.  I highly recommend reading it yourself.  (Huge thank you to Ryan Holiday for his reading list and monthly updates). Energy Maneuverability theory is a model […]

  8. Five Blogs You Should Probably Read | | Chris Johnson - Gaining GroundChris Johnson – Gaining Ground - January 1, 2012

    […] theme – generally – is escaping delusion – particularly self delusion.  His Reading List is excellent place start, and I’ve got a couple of books to read and I’ll finally have […]

  9. What I Learned from Getting Laid Off [Guest Post by Austin Yoder] - April 10, 2012

    […] to Ryan Holiday, I’m on sort of a Stoic kick at the moment. Go check out the rest of his reading list if you haven’t, and also read On the Shortness of […]

  10. Why Torrenting Is The Best Thing Ever | Following the Rules - April 23, 2012

    […] is too important to put a price on. Top performers are crazy about books, and might read 5-10 per week. Realistically, that means either […]

  11. Online Advertising's Greatest Missed Opportunity? Kiip.me Founder Brian Wong, Answers | 01elite.com - April 25, 2012

    […] for monthly reading recommendations through his reading list email. Bookmark on Delicious Digg this post Recommend on Facebook share via Reddit Share with Stumblers […]

  12. 9 Timeless Leadership Lessons from Cyrus the Great « myhrtoursandtravels - April 30, 2012

    […] be found at RyanHoliday.net, and you can sign up for monthly reading recommendations through his reading list email. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  13. Online Advertising's Greatest Missed Opportunity? Kiip.me Founder Brian Wong Answers | AddFree.eu - April 30, 2012

    […] for monthly reading recommendations through his reading list email. Bookmark on Delicious Digg this post Recommend on Facebook share via Reddit Share with Stumblers […]

  14. Read to Lead: The Secret Code for Cracking "Tough" Books and Reading Above Your Level | iGlobal Market Research - May 14, 2012

    […] For me, that means pulling forward into subjects you’re not informed with and wresting with them until we can–shying divided from a “easy read.” It means reading Feynman over Friedman, biographies over business books, and a classics over a contemporary. It worked wonders for me: during 19, we was a Hollywood executive, we was during 21 we was a executive of selling for a publicly traded company, and during 24 I’d worked on 5 bestselling books and sole my possess to a biggest publisher in a world. we might have been a college dump out yet we have had a best teachers in a world: tough books. […]

  15. Why the Media Loves Writing About Facebook’s IPO (or Any IPO, Scandal or Lawsuit) | Hot Entertainment News - Top news daily! - May 18, 2012

    […] be found at RyanHoliday.net, and you can sign up for monthly reading recommendations through his reading list email. google_ad_client = "pub-3831624734245132"; google_ad_channel =""; google_ad_width = 300; […]

  16. Reading List | George's Blog - May 23, 2012

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  17. Read to Lead: The Secret Code for Cracking 'Tough' Books and Reading Above Your Level - June 7, 2012

    […] For me, that means pushing ahead into subjects you’re not familiar with and wresting with them until you can–shying away from the “easy read.” It means reading Feynman over Friedman, biographies over business books, and the classics over the contemporary. It worked wonders for me: at 19, I was a Hollywood executive, I was at 21 I was the director of marketing for a publicly traded company, and at 24 I’d worked on 5 bestselling books and sold my own to the biggest publisher in the world. I may have been a college drop out but I have had the best teachers in the world: tough books. […]

  18. Are YouTube and Chart Sensation Alex Day the Future of Music? | Best Daily Deals Sites Marketplace - June 12, 2012

    […] Ryan Holiday is the author of Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator (Penguin/Portfolio). More of his writing can be found at RyanHoliday.net, and you can sign up for monthly reading recommendations through his reading list email. […]

  19. Is YouTube and Chart Sensation Alex Day the Future of Music? | Best Daily Deals Sites Marketplace - June 12, 2012

    […] Ryan Holiday is the author of Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator (Penguin/Portfolio). More of his writing can be found at RyanHoliday.net, and you can sign up for monthly reading recommendations through his reading list email. […]

  20. Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator - An Exclusive Conversation with Ryan Holiday | The Rise to the Top - July 18, 2012

    […] Ryan’s new book (affiliate) Ryan’s website Ryan’s reading list […]

  21. Trust Me, I’m Lying: A conversation with author Ryan Holiday | Preneur Marketing Blog - Pete Williams | Author Entrepreneur - July 18, 2012

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  22. MARRE.CO » “Media manipulator” Ryan Holiday on regrets, ethical blogging and what will kill you - July 19, 2012

    […] read some more. I have a reading list that would give any ambitious young person a good head start: http://www.ryanholiday.net/reading-list. I also send out a monthly reading newsletter full of reading recommendations: […]

  23. “Media manipulator” Ryan Holiday on regrets, ethical blogging and what will kill you | t1u - July 19, 2012

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  24. How To Take #1 and #2 on The Amazon Bestseller Lists - July 21, 2012

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  26. The Startup Bookshelf: Blogs And Books Every Startup Co-Founder Must Read - August 6, 2012

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  27. Books to base your life on « Dule.ca - October 3, 2012

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  28. Friday Links 19/10/12 « Jordan Ayres - October 19, 2012

    […] and you can get quite a few books for free. I love biographies and this one came recommended from Ryan Holiday. I didn’t know much about Frederick Douglas or slavery in America before beginning this book […]

  29. Books I’m Reading | Andrew Edstrom's Musings - November 28, 2012

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  30. Read to Lead with Ryan Holiday | UnCollege - March 23, 2013

    […] The best advice I’ve ever got about reading came from a secretive movie producer and talent manager who’d sold more than 100 million albums and done more than $1B in box office returns. He said to me one day, “Ryan, it’s not enough that you read a lot. To do great things, you have to read to lead.”What he meant was that in an age where almost nobody reads, you can be forgiven for thinking that the simple act of picking up a book is revolutionary. It may be, but it’s not enough. Reading to lead means pushing yourself–reading books “above your level.” In short, you know the books where the words blur together and you can’t understand what’s happening? Those are the books a leader needs to read. Reading to lead or learn requires that you treat your brain like the muscle that it is–lifting the subjects with the most tension and weight.For me, that means pushing ahead into subjects you’re not familiar with and wresting with them until you can–shying away from the “easy read.” It means reading Feynman over Friedman, biographies over business books, and the classics over the contemporary. It worked wonders for me: at 19, I was a Hollywood executive, I was at 21 I was the director of marketing for a publicly traded company, and at 24 I’d worked on 5 bestselling books and sold my own to the biggest publisher in the world. I may have been a college drop out but I have had the best teachers in the world: tough books. […]

  31. Hacking Your Way To A Reading Habit | UnCollege - March 24, 2013

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  32. Read To Lead: How To Digest Books Above Your “Level” | Thought Catalog - April 29, 2013

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  34. 7 Hacks for Getting and Keeping Great Mentors | UnCollegeUnCollege - August 17, 2013

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  35. Run-ons & Reading Lists | e.v. de cleyre - August 23, 2013

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  36. Books That Changed My Life - The Blog of Deepak Nair - November 19, 2013

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  38. Do Something Without Telling Anyone | Jake Bowles - January 13, 2014

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  41. What to Read Instead of the Eighth Buzzfeed Article | E and P - March 18, 2014

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  46. 5 Books You Should Read Immediately | The Good Life - August 6, 2014

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  47. Marcus Aurelius | AllFather - August 16, 2014

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  48. 3 must read books for online marketers ► Start today - August 20, 2014

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  49. The Startup Reading List: Must Read Books For Every Startup - Simplifilm - September 24, 2014

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  50. The Stoic in Me | AllFather - October 17, 2014

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  51. Disrupting How Bestsellers Are Made: Apply Startup-style Growth Hacking To … | Headlines Breaking News - October 18, 2014

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  54. Finally reading 33 Strategies of War | Chiara Cokieng - November 18, 2014

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  55. November 2014 Reading List | STACY CUMBERBATCH - December 2, 2014

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  56. Rare Intellect · Magnus Skonberg - December 6, 2014

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  57. Modernize Your Marketing Degree: 6 Tips from a Grad Who Learned the Hard Way | LΔ - January 4, 2015

    […] If you’re looking for books to read, start here and join his reading list. Genius marketer and a really inspiring person in […]

  58. Read to Lead — Grace Polaris Church - January 14, 2015

    […] including classic literature, by subscribing to Ryan Holiday’s monthly reading list email here (just be prepared for some colorful language if you go this route). Keep in mind that the […]

  59. A Picture of Bookshelves Was My Turning Point | Matt Hollingsworth - February 2, 2015

    […] more ideas of what to read? Check out Ryan Holiday’s reading recommendation email – he sends one out every month with notes about what he’s […]

  60. Slow Reading - Grammar Is Sexy - February 16, 2015

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  61. The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and times of America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen. « Bobby's Papers - February 27, 2015

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  62. 24 Fiction Books That Can Change Your Life | Thought Catalog - April 23, 2015

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  63. Help Along the Way (for the Twenty-something) | roorblog - April 26, 2015

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  64. Tools for the Road Ahead | - April 26, 2015

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  67. Tell Me Who You Spend Time With, And I Will Tell You Who You Are | Thought Catalog - June 10, 2015

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  68. Arkadiy Birger - June 20, 2015

    […] to see in my inbox and I always read it right away. It’s a great read and I encourage you to sign up as […]

  69. The 15 Most Influential Educators In Digital Marketing: 2015 - OMI Blog - OMI Blog - July 3, 2015

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  71. The Real World | The SAS Honors Program Blog - July 20, 2015

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  72. Marketing guru Ryan Holiday answers your growth hacking questions | 3Buzz Now - July 21, 2015

    […] started! I have a list of what I call ‘Books to Base Your Life On’ but honestly, read ANYTHING that gets you […]

  73. Every books list from Ryan Holy | Guten Track - July 26, 2015

    […] http://ryanholiday.net/reading-list/ […]

  74. Ryan Holiday’s book tips | Books That Will Change Your Life - July 27, 2015

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  75. “More Real News” | SpokeAnna - August 4, 2015

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  76. Fall lifestyle reboot - November 23, 2015

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  77. Books That Changed My Life | Cool Tools - December 14, 2015

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  78. From Zero to 50,000: How I Built A Big Email List Exclusively About Books I Liked | RyanHoliday.netFrom Zero to 50,000: How I Built A Big Email List Exclusively About Books I Liked - RyanHoliday.net - December 28, 2015

    […] you sign up. It hits you with 5 book recommendations to start you off and provides links to some popular articles I have written about reading and […]

  79. Ultimative guide til at blive online marketing manager - January 9, 2016

    […] følger desuden Ryan Holidays reading list, hvor der ofte kommer rigtig mange interessante bøger […]

  80. Showspark Daily Feature: Shadow of Whales - January 16, 2016

    […] are resources literally everywhere. A couple of good books, “Growthhacker Marketing” by Ryan Holiday or “The Four Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferris. (some say he sounds or acts vein but he has […]

  81. Marcus Aurelius on Finding Peace - January 20, 2016

    […] discovered it a few years ago on Ryan Holiday’s list of Books to Base Your Life On.  For me, it was one of those books I find once every few years that fundamentally shifts my view […]

  82. Sunday Inspiration – oliviabdesign - February 27, 2016

    […] Apparently basing your life on books is a thing? Give it a go and let me know […]

  83. setting up and maintaining a reading list – lifelong kaizen - April 5, 2016

    […] Holiday’s website and newsletter. The back catalog of recommendations alone is a great […]

  84. Cancel Out Noise by Keeping Busy and Setting Priorities | Counter Cultured - April 12, 2016

    […] is remotely interesting or captivating. Read both fiction and non-fiction. Check out Goodreads or subscribe to Ryan Holiday’s book list. These two venues will give you an array of books to choose […]