They say that you are what you eat; I say, you are what you read.
Since the death of Thomas Young in 1829 (the “last man who knew everything”), the wealth of human knowledge hasn’t just expanded, it has exploded. And nowadays, the rate of human knowledge is growing so fast that many textbooks are already obsolete by the time they leave the printing press.
In a world like this, if you aren’t reading several books a month, your intellect is actually regressing, as measured by the ratio between what you know and what is available to know.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to grow dumber just by standing still, so I read like a maniac. The key to reading a lot of books is to LISTEN to them. I download them from Audible.com onto my phone and listen when I’m driving, when I’m running around the Rose Bowl, when I’m cooking or doing dishes, and so forth. At Audible.com, you pay a FRACTION of the price that it costs to buy the books on CDs, and because the books are on your phone, you can listen anytime, anywhere. When your phone rings, the book pauses. At the end of a call, the book backs up a few seconds and continues playing. Easy.
I also get physical copies of some of the recommended books. Although you can add bookmarks and notes to your Audible books, sometimes it’s handy to flip through a book when looking for references.
The Top Twelve List
First, here are my absolute top twelve. If you read/listen to three a month, you’ll be done in four months — and you will be operating/thinking at a whole new level.
Books on Marketing:
Free, The Future Of A Radical Price by Chris Anderson
This book is a must-listen. Not only does the book show the many ways that “Free” can and should be used to make money in marketing, it also gives a fascinating history of commerce and the factors that forever changed the face of business in the last few hundred years.
The book is 7 hrs and 2 minutes hours long. It’s a very enjoyable listen — I’ve heard it twice and will probably listen to it again sometime.
Demand: Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It, by Adrian Slywotzky and Karl Weber
An informative book that uses real-life examples to demonstrate the different ways a company can create high volumes of customer attraction and retention. New stuff — definitely not a rehash of your standard marketing texts.
The book is 11 hours and 47 mins. Highly recommended.
Books on Business:
The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, by Eric Ries
Amazon.com’s summary says it well: “Eric Ries defines a startup as an organization dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty. This is just as true for one person in a garage or a group of seasoned professionals in a Fortune 500 boardroom. What they have in common is a mission to penetrate that fog of uncertainty to discover a successful path to a sustainable business.
“The Lean Startup approach fosters companies that are both more capital efficient and that leverage human creativity more effectively. Inspired by lessons from lean manufacturing, it relies on “validated learning,” rapid scientific experimentation, as well as a number of counter-intuitive practices that shorten product development cycles, measure actual progress without resorting to vanity metrics, and learn what customers really want. It enables a company to shift directions with agility, altering plans inch by inch, minute by minute.
“Rather than wasting time creating elaborate business plans, The Lean Startup offers entrepreneurs – in companies of all sizes – a way to test their vision continuously, to adapt and adjust before it’s too late. Ries provides a scientific approach to creating and managing successful startups in a age when companies need to innovate more than ever.”
The audible.com book is 8 hrs and 43 mins long, and I highly, HIGHLY recommend it to anyone starting a business or a new arm of an existing business.
Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life, by Stuart Diamon
This book should be required reading for anyone, everyone and YOU. To quote Amazon.com: “This new model of human interaction has been chosen by Google to train the entire company worldwide (30,000 employees), is the #1 book for your career chosen by The Wall Street Journal’s website, and is labeled “phenomenal” by Lawyers’ Weekly and “brilliant” by Liza Oz of the Oprah network.
“Based on more than 20 years of research and practice among 30,000 people in 45 countries, Getting More concludes that finding and valuing the other party’s emotions and perceptions creates far more value than the conventional wisdom of power and logic. It is intended to provide better agreements for everyone no matter what they negotiate – from jobs to kids to billion dollar deals to shopping.
“The book, a New York Times bestseller and #1 Wall Street Journal business best seller, is based on Professor Stuart Diamond’s award-winning course at the Wharton Business School, where the course has been the most popular over 13 years. It challenges the conventional wisdom on every page, from “win-win” to BATNA to rationality to the use of power. Companies have made billions of dollars so far using his new model and parents have gotten their 4-year-olds to willingly brush their teeth and go to bed.”
The book is pretty long — the audible version is 18 hrs and 38 mins along, but it’s worth every minute. I can’t emphasize enough that THIS is the book to read/listen to if you want to get ahead in business or create more harmony in your marriage.
Time / Life Management:
168 Hours; You Have More Time Than You Think, by Laura Vanderkam
If you suffer from a lack of time, this book will change your life. To quote the summary from Amazon.com: “It’s an unquestioned truth of modern life: we are starved for time. We tell ourselves we’d like to read more, get to the gym regularly, try new hobbies, and accomplish all kinds of goals. But then we give up because there just aren’t enough hours to do it all. Or if we don’t make excuses, we make sacrifices- taking time out from other things in order to fit it all in.
“There has to be a better way…and Laura Vanderkam has found one. After interviewing dozens of successful, happy people, she realized that they allocate their time differently than most of us. Instead of letting the daily grind crowd out the important stuff, they start by making sure there’s time for the important stuff. When plans go wrong and they run out of time, only their lesser priorities suffer.
“Vanderkam shows that with a little examination and prioritizing, you’ll find it is possible to sleep eight hours a night, exercise five days a week, take piano lessons, and write a novel without giving up quality time for work, family, and other things that really matter.”
The book is 7 hrs and 48 minutes long, and it very worth the time.
What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings—and Life, by Laura Vanderkam
This book is only 1 hour and 4 minutes long, but it is very impactful. According to this book, which I’ve listened to several times now, if you change your morning routine, you can change your life. And it’s true.
According to Amazon.com: “Mornings are mad for many of us. We wake up in a haze – after hitting snooze a few times. Then we rush out the door so we can officially start the day. Before we know it, hours have slipped by without us accomplishing anything beyond downing coffee, dashing off a few emails, and catching up with colleagues. By the end of the day, we’re so exhausted that any motivation to accomplish something in the evening has vanished.
“But according to time management expert Laura Vanderkam, mornings hold the key to taking control of our schedules. If we use them wisely, we can build habits that will allow us to lead happier, more productive lives.
“Drawing on real-life stories and scientific research that shows why the early hours of the day are so important, Vanderkam reveals how successful people use mornings to help them accomplish things that are impossible to take care of later in the day.
“What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast is a fun, practical guide that will inspire you to rethink your morning routine and jump-start your life before the day has even begun.”
Books on Finance:
Few people have perfect finances. The following two books, while polar opposites (almost), together provide a balanced pathway to financial security and happiness.
The Total Money Makeover, by Dave Ramsey
This book gives the straight dope about money and how to manage it. According to Amazon.com: “The success stories speak for themselves in this book from money maestro Dave Ramsey. Instead of promising the normal dose of quick fixes, Ramsey offers a bold, no-nonsense approach to money matters, providing not only the how-to but also a grounded and uplifting hope for getting out of debt and achieving total financial health.
“Ramsey debunks the many myths of money (exposing the dangers of cash advance, rent-to-own, debt consolidation) and attacks the illusions and downright deceptions of the American dream, which encourages nothing but overspending and massive amounts of debt. “Don’t even consider keeping up with the Joneses,” Ramsey declares in his typically candid style. “They’re broke!”
“The Total Money Makeover isn’t theory. It works every single time. It works because it is simple. It works because it gets to the heart of the money problems: you.”
The book is 288 pages long, but the audiobook is an abridged version and is only 3 hrs and 36 minutes long. Short, sweet, and very useful.
You have more money than you think. After wrestling down the debt and knocking out the stupid stuff (with the Dave Ramsey book above), this book by Laura Vanderkam will show you how you CAN find money for the fun stuff. What’s not to love about that?
According to Amazon.com, “How happy would you be if you had all the money in the world? The universal lament about money is that there is never enough. We spend endless hours obsessing over our budgets and investments, trying to figure out ways to stretch every dollar. We try to follow the advice of money gurus and financial planners, then kick ourselves whenever we spend too much or save too little. For all of the stress and effort we put into every choice, why are most of us unhappy about our finances?
“According to Laura Vanderkam, the key is to change your perspective. Instead of looking at money as a scarce resource, consider it a tool that you can use creatively to build a better life for yourself and the people you care about.
“For instance, the average couple spends $5,000 on engagement and wedding rings, making these pricey purchases largely because everyone else does. But what if you decided to spend $300 on rings and apply the rest to future date nights, weekend getaways, and thinking-of-you bouquets over the next ten years? In he long run, what would bring more joy to your marriage? Likewise, will owning a home with a pristine lawn and a two-car garage—the American Dream—really make you more satisfied? Or are you saving up for this investment just because financial planners tell you it’s worth it?”
The audible version is 7 hrs and 23 mins long and is very liberating to listen to.
Life Perspective Books:
So you think you’re in control of your life? Not exactly — many good things happen because you were in the right place at the right time. Pure dumb luck. But there are ways you can stack the odds. According to Amazon.com: “With the born storyteller’s command of narrative and imaginative approach, Leonard Mlodinow vividly demonstrates how our lives are profoundly informed by chance and randomness and how everything from wine ratings and corporate success to school grades and political polls are less reliable than we believe.
“By showing us the true nature of chance and revealing the psychological illusions that cause us to misjudge the world around us, Mlodinow gives us the tools we need to make more informed decisions. From the classroom to the courtroom and from financial markets to supermarkets, Mlodinow’s intriguing and illuminating look at how randomness, chance, and probability affect our daily lives will intrigue, awe, and inspire.”
This book is 9 hrs and 19 mins of pure genius. Entertaining too. It will make you feel ten times smarter and show you ways to get a slight upper hand on the random universe we live in.
QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life, by John G. Miller
Very interesting book. Teaches how to quit blaming and think through problems/decisions to get to better solutions. According to Amazon.com: “Have you ever heard questions like these?
“”Why do we have to go through all this change?” “Why don’t they communicate better?” “When is someone going to train me?” “Who dropped the ball?” “When is that department going to do its job right?” “When will someone share the vision?” “Why is this happening to me?” “When will we get more tools and better systems?”
“If so, QBQ! is the book for you and your organization.
“In today’s business culture, the lack of personal accountability is a problem that has resulted in an epidemic of blame, complaining, and procrastination. No organization – or individual – can achieve its goals, compete in the marketplace, fulfill its vision, or develop people and teams without personal accountability. The solution is an entirely new approach – characterized by new thinking and behaviors – where we no longer give lip service to teamwork, but ask, “What can I do to contribute?” and “How can I make a difference?” John G. Miller helps us make this happen. This new, hard-hitting book from the author of Personal Accountability shows us all how to become more effective and successful. Using succinct, lighthearted stories and easy-to-read chapters, Miller gives us a practical method for putting personal accountability into daily action, which can bring astonishing results: Problems get solved, internal barriers come down, service improves, teamwork grows, and people adapt to change more quickly.
“In QBQ! The Question Behind the Question, John G. Miller presents a winning handbook you’ll want to keep close by for situations requiring personal accountability. It’s a terrific resource for anyone seeking to learn, grow, and change. Using this tool, each of us can add tremendous value to our organizations and our lives by eliminating blame, complaining, and procrastination.”
The audiobook is short and sweet, only 1 hr and 11 mins long. And don’t blame me if the book doesn’t knock you off the blame-wagon!
The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, by Shawn Achor
Don’t worry, be happy! Great, great book. According to Amazon.com: “Conventional wisdom holds that if we work hard we will be more successful, and if we are more successful, then we’ll be happy. If we can just find that great job, win that next promotion, lose those five pounds, happiness will follow. But recent discoveries in the field of positive psychology have shown that this formula is actually backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive at work. This isn’t just an empty mantra. This discovery has been repeatedly borne out by rigorous research in psychology and neuroscience, management studies, and the bottom lines of organizations around the globe.
“In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor, who spent over a decade living, researching, and lecturing at Harvard University, draws on his own research—including one of the largest studies of happiness and potential at Harvard and others at companies like UBS and KPMG—to fix this broken formula. Using stories and case studies from his work with thousands of Fortune 500 executives in 42 countries, Achor explains how we can reprogram our brains to become more positive in order to gain a competitive edge at work.
“Isolating seven practical, actionable principles that have been tried and tested everywhere from classrooms to boardrooms, stretching from Argentina to Zimbabwe, he shows us how we can capitalize on the Happiness Advantage to improve our performance and maximize our potential. Among the principles he outlines:
• The Tetris Effect: how to retrain our brains to spot patterns of possibility, so we can see—and seize—opportunities wherever we look.
• The Zorro Circle: how to channel our efforts on small, manageable goals, to gain the leverage to gradually conquer bigger and bigger ones.
• Social Investment: how to reap the dividends of investing in one of the greatest predictors of success and happiness—our social support network
“A must-read for everyone trying to excel in a world of increasing workloads, stress, and negativity, The Happiness Advantage isn’t only about how to become happier at work. It’s about how to reap the benefits of a happier and more positive mind-set to achieve the extraordinary in our work and in our lives.”
This book is 7 hrs and 23 mins long and is very easy to listen to.
Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else
Most of us are good at something. Sometimes we’re good at lots of things. But there’s a world of difference between good and great. According to Amazon.com: “Asked to explain why a few people truly excel, most people offer one of two answers. The first is hard work. Yet we all know plenty of hard workers who have been doing the same job for years or decades without becoming great. The other possibility is that the elite possess an innate talent for excelling in their field. We assume that Mozart was born with an astounding gift for music, and Warren Buffett carries a gene for brilliant investing. The trouble is, scientific evidence doesn’t support the notion that specific natural talents make great performers.
“According to distinguished journalist Geoff Colvin, both the hard work and natural talent camps are wrong. What really makes the difference is a highly specific kind of effort-“deliberate practice”-that few of us pursue when we’re practicing golf or piano or stockpicking. Based on scientific research, Talent is Overrated shares the secrets of extraordinary performance and shows how to apply these principles. It features the stories of people who achieved world-class greatness through deliberate practice-including Benjamin Franklin, comedian Chris Rock, football star Jerry Rice, and top CEOs Jeffrey Immelt and Steven Ballmer.”
This book is 7 hrs and 37 mins long, and will show you the strategies you need to get really great. Go for it.
The Next Twelve:
When you finish the “Top Twelve” list, then it’s time to dig into the next twelve. I’ll put up the links and descriptions shortly. 😉
The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs
Book Yourself Solid
The Art of the Start
Free Prize Inside
The Long Tail
I don’t know about you, but I’m fascinated by brain function. The following books make it really easy and entertaining to learn more about happiness and success.
Sunny Brain, Rainy Brain
The Practicing Mind
And just because:
I like to know how things work. The following books by the very entertaining Mary Roach will take you “behind the scenes” of some very unusual subjects.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex