Books to Base Your Life On

July 11, 2008

I was trying to come up with a way to organize my books. The genre system doesn’t really work – it’s always about what the author wrote the book for, not what I use it for. When Alinsky wrote Rules for Radicals in the 1960’s he probably wasn’t thinking about the internet. Still, it’s the centerpiece of Internet Strategy shelf. I decided to label them that way, by what they’ve taught me, connections and what I applied it to. Things like “Hustling,” “America” “Evolution (which includes evolutionary pysch, some economics, sex memoirs) or my favorite, “Animals”

If there was a fire or I had to abandon most of my library, there’s one shelf I would grab. It’s the only one that matters. It’s my Life section – books with life lessons, advice, morals, ways of being. They could all fit well their original genres (non-fiction, economics, philosophy, literature) but to me they only feel right together. They were all consumed the same way, under the same guiding idea:

My advice is really this: what we hear the philosophers saying and what we find in their writings should be applied in our pursuit of the happy life. We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application–not far far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphors and figures of speech–and learn them so well that words become works.” – Seneca

So this is my Life section:

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American by BH Liddell Hart

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss

Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges

The Image by Daniel Boorstin

Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan

The Fish that Ate the Whale by Rich Cohen

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning by Viktor Frankl

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi

The Harder They Fall by Budd Schulberg

What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg

Letters From a Stoic by Seneca

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram

Classic Feynman by Richard Feynman

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker

The Discourses by Epictetus

Reflections and Moral Maxims by Francois Duc De La Rochefoucauld

On The Good Life by Cicero

The Dip by Seth Godin

Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther

Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) by Carol Tavris

Ask the Dust by John Fante

Masteryby Robert Greene

48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

I’ve done the same with my Delicious account. I couldn’t tell you whats in half the articles I tagged “life” but I know that I absorbed something from each of them. I don’t want to be like that. THIS is how to think. Innovation or Exploitation?

I’m in no position to give anyone life advice. I’m still figuring mine out. But these are the books and themes I’m basing my life on. It’s working out so far.

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Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

19 responses to Books to Base Your Life On

  1. Hahaha, I just knew Meditations would be the first book mentioned.

  2. In this sentence “there’s one shelf I was grab”, change was to “would”.

    Do you know Tim Ferriss’s Delicious account? He mentions using it, but doesn’t link to it like you or I would.

    Solid entry.

    I do something similar, but have created two shelves devoted to “Good Books for a Teenager to Read”. It’s for my brother to work his way through. After a rocky start and some discussion and thinking, it’s working really well right now. He’s going to have a head start and is adding onto the shelf of his own accord.

  3. Reminds me of Chris Anderson’s section in the Long Tail entitled “In The Library of Misshelved Books” (pg 156). The physical is a bitch to organize.

    What are you using to organize your quotes/notes on your computer? Just manual? I try to assign tabs to them, but I haven’t found an effective automatic organizer like delicious.

  4. I am not always a fan of your posts or your attitude for that matter, as you often strike me as an arrogant, young kid. But I do have to say, you’ve definitely inspired me to read more and I do like your book recommendations, so for that, I thank you.

  5. I’m in no position to give anyone life advice either. I’m 42 and still trying to figure life out too! This is a never ending process – if you’re not improving you’re dying, or you might as well be. Somewhere in my late 20’s, I appear to have settled for mediocrity. It’s not unusual -you can see mediocrity everywhere. In the High street, on TV, at work, in the news. So you may feel that you’re too young to give life advice, but one thing I thank you for is reminding me of the passion I once had for life and trying to be the best I can be. Something I’m rediscovering.

  6. Ryan, I like that list… I’ve only read about half of them but now it looks like I have a good dozen more to add to my Amazon wishlist.

  7. Dr. Alinsky? The one idea I remember from that book is that in order to affect change in America, you cannot alienate the middle class and I am unsure how you would apply it to the ‘net. Sadly, the middle class no longer seems to read in this country.

  8. Ryan, can you recommend some books from your “Hustle” category? I have Pimp by Iceberg Slim, and would like some more. Thanks.

  9. Hello!

    I’m a big fan of Paulo Coelho! You will love this! He’s the first best-selling author to be distributing for free his works on his blog:

    Have a nice day!


  10. Lately I have been thinking that you can’t learn anything from a book that you don’t already know. (This is not an original thought, but there is no such thing.)

    The only thing that has ever changed me is experience. I think getting your heart broken once teaches a person more than reading about it a dozen times. Or when you really are down and out, that experience I would not trade for even my favourite most definitive book.

    Am I lying to myself though? I still read book and I bought two today, and behind me is a pile of 10 unread books and I intend to read them. I guess it is preparation for battle, I want to read about it a bit before I go in and really find out for myself.

  11. “Since I’m not sure what an IP address is, this is like my 20th comment under a different name. I actually believed that changing my name from Charlie Murphey to Roy Dean to “blank” would fool a fucking computer. I hate Ryan SO MUCH! HE MAKES ME SO ANGRY!!!!!!!!!!!”

  12. I don’t get that last comment… I’m confused…

  13. Ryan, thank you for this. I have really surprised myself at how quickly I have read through a large chunk of the list of authors so many bloggers make constant reference to, and it’s nice to have a future list waiting.

    I also second the sentiments of dumbjock — I would love to see you provide examples of books located in other categories. I know they are divided up based on what they meant to ‘you,’ but, without taking the groupings as gospel, it would still be much appreciated.

    Keep up the great work.

  14. I highly recommend reading Napoleon Hill. Think and Grow Rich or Law of Success are excellent and very informative books that have helped me greatly and can help you.

  15. Sandeep Gourkanti September 11, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Thanks for updating the list. I’ve been reading Ask The Dust by Fante and its excellent.

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