Books are one love affair that did not have a happy ending for me.
It all started in high school, where all the good stories originate. This one won’t involve any broken hearts though…
I was studying a school which felt like a four year long army training, including reading all the classics ever written. After reading each book, there was a test where we were supposed to explain the meaning behind the book, the author’s own mental processes behind the story, including some pretty messed up poems (Shakespeare, I’m talking about you!).
Now if you ask me what Dostoyevsky was trying to say in Crime & Punishment or who did Sophia choose in the end in Sophia’s Choice, I will have to google it first.
After high school, I went on to study law where the excitement levels reach new heights. I learned about who has a right to kill slaves in ancient Rome, how should you correctly divide fruit that falls on your property from the neighbour’s trees and what is the precise process and procedure of electing a new pope (in case I considered to apply in future). My personal favourite – ancient philosophy – where we were tested on knowing what was going on in the brains of people like Plato, Socrates or Epicurus. In my opinion, those guys had way too much time on their hands.
After university, me and books were in a long term distance relationship. There were no hard feelings, but for the sake of both of us, I thought we better keep some distance.
That was until I started my first job in London and a friend recommended a book by Paulo Coehlo.
After reading Alchemist, I went through all of his books religiously, including one of my favourite ones – 11 Minutes (short story about a prostitute). With high hopes and excitement, I thought I re-discovered my long lost dalliance with written words.
I got into the habit of getting a book each month to read during me 1.5 hour commute to work in London. Some of the I didn’t finish, with most of them I fell asleep after a few pages. I did enjoy crime novels, but it feels like once you’ve read one, you have read them all. After a while, I gave up and started living life instead of reading about it.
That brings us to the present and a secret to share.
As with every relationship, you have to dig your way through some rough patches until you make your way down the aisle in that gorgeous white dress.
I think I finally found the one.
His name is Non-Fiction.
MY MOST LOVED BOOKS:
1. Sapiens: A Brief history of Humankind – by Yuval Noah Harari
I absolutely love this book! I found it after a recommendation in an online article, I couldn’t put it down even thought it doesn’t tell you any story. Actually, it does – the story of humankind.
There are so many eye opening observations and his interpretation of history will make you look at the world with different eyes.
It’s not what you would expect from a history book – it’s hilarious, controversial, thought-provoking and touches so many aspects of human existence. I will tell you the history in the most exciting way you can imagine – in a way that feels like a movie even though you know the ending.
It will leave you questioning some of the most fundamental institutions like religion, government and your own existence and happiness.
If you want a book that will change the way you think about life, this is it.
“Each and every one of us has been born into a given historical reality, ruled by particular norms and values, and managed by a unique economic and political system. We take this reality for granted, thinking it is natural, inevitable and immutable. We forget that our world was created by an accidental chain of events, and that history shaped not only our technology, politics and society, but also our thoughts, fears and dreams. The cold hand of the past emerges from the grave of our ancestors, grips us by the neck and directs our gaze towards a single future. We have felt that grip from the moment we were born, so we assume that it is a natural and inescapable part of who we are. Therefore we seldom try to shake ourselves free, and envision alternative futures.”
“A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.”
“There are no gods, no nations, no money and no human rights, except in our collective imagination.”
“Seventy thousand years ago, Homo sapiens was still an insignificant animal minding its own business in a corner of Africa. In the following millennia it transformed itself into the master of the entire planet and the terror of the ecosystem. Today it stands on the verge of becoming a god, poised to acquire not only eternal youth, but also the divine abilities of creation and destruction.”
PS: those art notes on top of the book are not part of the design. They were generously donated by my 3 year old.
2. The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k – by Sarah Knight
This book was absolutely hilarious.
I like to call it “Bible for people who grew up on a village”.
In essence, it reminds you what truly matters – your own sanity and your loved ones. It made rethink some of the routine decisions I was making myself without consideration of the consequences.
It will make you laugh and seriously rethink your list of priorities. Read on a Friday night with a glass of wine, you will have a blast!
“Not giving a fuck—crucially—means releasing yourself from the worry, anxiety, fear, and guilt associated with saying no, allowing you to stop spending time you don’t have with people you don’t like doing things you don’t want to do. ”
“As someone who grew up in a household full of guilt, I think it’s important for our kids to know that they can make decisions about what to care about, and that they don’t need to pay attention to the approval or condescension of other people in deciding how to live their lives.”
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that family members tend to think other family members have to give a fuck about their lives just because they share DNA.”
3. Home Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow – by Yuval Noah Harari
Back to my favourite author – Yuval Noah Harari.
Homo Deus is the continuation of the earlier mentioned Brief History of Humankind. The difference? This one will mess with your head even more.
The book poses some very fundamental questions about where the civilization is heading and what can we expect in the near future. He doesn’t leave out any topics and strips all the politics and ideologies to the bare core – facts and history. It touches on topics like terrorism, genetic modification of food and human cells, the future in robot populated society and our future on Mars. If it sounds far-fetched, you should read it to understand where all of this is coming from.
It left me feeling a bit sad and worried about where we are heading, but as the author concludes, we’ve got our future in our hands.
“Every day millions of people decide to grant their smartphone a bit more control over their lives or try a new and more effective antidepressant drug. In pursuit of health, happiness and power, humans will gradually change first one of their features and then another, and another, until they will no longer be human.”
“Sapiens rule the world because only they can weave an intersubjective web of meaning: a web of laws, forces, entities and places that exist purely in their common imagination. This web allows humans alone to organise crusades, socialist revolutions and human rights movements.”
“Fiction isn’t bad. It is vital. Without commonly accepted stories about things like money, states or corporations, no complex human society can function. We can’t play football unless everyone believes in the same made-up rules, and we can’t enjoy the benefits of markets and courts without similar make-believe stories. But stories are just tools. They shouldn’t become our goals or our yardsticks. When we forget that they are mere fiction, we lose touch with reality. Then we begin entire wars `to make a lot of money for the cooperation’ or ‘to protect the national interest’. Corporations, money and nations exist only in our imagination. We invented them to serve us; why do we find ourselves sacrificing our life in their service.”
4. 52 Lists for Happiness – by Moorea Seal
This book is one of the latest additions and it’s not actually a book. It’s a form of happiness journal that takes a whole year to complete.
I am now on week 3 and I’m really enjoying it.
It’s a tool for self-discovery – each week, you have to complete a list of things based on a certain topic. Your very first week, you start with this one: list of things that make you happy right now.
After you finish your first list, you are given a task to find out how to incorporate some of those things into your every day life.
The same approach is then repeated throughout remainder of the book. The book is divided into four sections with themed lists of questions – reflect, acknowledge, invest and transform.
Each list has a note for action, so it won’t be a mere writing exercise but a true attempt to make a change in your life.
It’s a great gift for Christmas as you can start completing it from new year, making a fresh start and finding out more about yourself.
Very simple concept, but I love it.
5. How to be Everything – by Emilie Wapnick
(on my kindle)
What do you want to be when you grow up? Most of us are challenged with this question even though we finished university and should have our life figured out. From the moment we start school, we are supposed to know our true legacy in this world, including preferred profession.
This book challenges all of these stereotypes.
There are some people, yours truly included, that can’t be blissfully happy doing just one thing. Committing to just one profession. Finding out the ONE thing that makes us fulfilled and happy.
Here is the thing – you don’t have to.
The author gives you a framework for combining multiple interests and passions into a fulfilling life, without having to choose just one thing to concentrate on. It’s a practical advise for people who struggle to find their path in life and the author give you detailed examples and options you can implement yourself.
6. Man’s Search for Meaning – by Viktor E. Frankl
Now we are a bit in the grey zone. This is not really a non-fiction book.
Man’s search for meaning is based on memoirs of life in concentration camp during the second world war, told from a perspective of a psychiatrist . The book contains his memories of every day life as a prisoner and includes a chapter on logotherapy, which is the fundamental basis and core of the book and his work.
Viktor E. Frank worked as a psychiatrist in Vienna in the years before the war. Despite being offered visa and protection of American Embassy, he decided to remain in Austria with his wife, to be close to his parents. They were both arrested and deported to concentration camp (he stayed in 3 different ones), where his pregnant wife died shortly afterwards.
Frankl describes in detail the everyday struggle for survival, the mental state of prisoners and the desperate need for hope in order to survive. He explains that even in the most harsh condition, one can find a real meaning in his life and use it to move past the struggle and pain. This is the very basic principle of his work and logotherapy : life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
The book was translated into 24 languages and sold 12 million copies worldwide. It was selected as one of the 10 most influential books of all times in the United States. Frankl died in 1997, exactly 10 years ago, but his book still continues to influence generations today.
7. Loosing My Virginity – Richard Branson
I’m not a huge fan of autobiographies and I think this is the first and only one I read.
I picked it up after listening a podcast of Tim Ferris (see below) where Richard Branson was a guest and I found him a fascinating person.
I wanted to know more about his life and businesses, how he made his money and what he has been through. The book documents his early days growing up in the UK and continues the story of his first business Virgin Music until the present time when he is preparing commercial flights to space. Even if you don’t like autobiographies, there is a lot you can learn from him.
His infectious optimism, sense of adventure and lifelong goal to make this world a better place are truly inspirational.
This year, he released his new autobiography – Finding my Virginity – and I look forward to reading it next year.
8. Tools of Titans – by Tim Ferris
(on kindle, but would like to get a hard copy too)
I came across Time Ferris first time when I read his 4 Hour Work Week (yes,those people really exist!).
With subtitle – The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers – this book is really what its says on the cover. It is based on his successful podcast series and collects practical advice and wisdom of some of the most successful people in the world. I personally found a lot of actionable advice, mainly for things like productivity, morning routines, accelerated learning and much more. My favourite chapter was probably the one with Arnold Schwarzenegger, it uncovered a side of him that I had no idea about. Did you know he was a very successful businessman before he turned to movies?
This book is a bit like a buffet – everyone can take what they like and find something they will love. You can skip between the chapters as you please and leave certain ones completely.
There is a lot of stuff that you won’t find interesting, but there is also plenty that you will find eye opening. For me personally, I learned the importance of morning routines, focusing on one thing only and the importance of gratitude and meditation.
9. The Art of Happiness – His Holiness The Dalai Lama
(I have this in print but left it in Slovakia, really looking forward to reading it second time)
I loved this little book. I can’t remember where I found it, but I would never think you can learn that much from a Buddhism as a way of living.
Written as a series of personal sessions with Dalai Lama, Dr. Howard Cutler collected answers to some of the most basic struggles of our every day life. The pursuit of happiness, how to overcome pain, find meaning in life and build better relationships. The books gets you up close and personal with Dalai Lama, and you will feel like you’re sitting in a room and talking to him personally.
Originally, the book was aiming to bring the principles of Buddhism and make them more practical and applicable to the ‘western audience’ . As you read the book, you will slowly understand that there is no way you can make the principles of Budhism more ‘western’. There are no 10 point lists or a set of rules you can follow. Dalai Lama teaches you that true happiness comes from within and a focused and intentional way of living with gratitude and kindness towards those around you. I don’t actually like to refer to Buddhism as a religion, I think about it more as a spiritual way of life, without having to refer to any God. I think that’s one of the things I like about Dalai Lama’s approach – he is very spiritual, but doesn’t enforce his religious beliefs onto anyone.
Immediately after I finished this book, I started looking for other books by Dalai Lama and read more about the Buddhism philosophy and way of life.
Most of the books on this topic are not easy to grasp but this one was very easy to read and you can find lots of practical advice for everyday life.
10. Morning Pages Journal – by Julia Cameron
This one is also not a traditional book and one on a bit controversial side.
Many people will tell you they don’t like the religious notes and tone of the book, while others will say that this method has transformed their life. I bought it as a two piece set – the guidebook and the actual journal. One crucial piece of advice – don’t bother buying the guidebook. It’s aimed at artists and people who are looking to re-invent their creativity and artistic mindset.
There is a lot of useful advice but I find it hard to dig through the religious tone and find a few nuggets of actually useful information.
The idea behind this is simple: as soon as you wake up, first thing in the morning, you grab the journal and write a whole page. It doesn’t matter what you write or how bad you write (you should see my one!!!).
Someone called this practice a ‘windshield wipers of your mind’. Through this practice of writing down whatever is running through your mind each morning, you clear your head of distractions and nonsense so you can concentrate on the day ahead with clear mind. It’s very similar to meditation and it might work better for most people who find meditation hard to do.
CURRENTLY ON MY WISHLIST:
I’m about to finish the last few pages of The Meaning of Life and my Kindle is bursting with more books that I’m very keen to start with.
These are mix of business books, life design books and a bit of old ancient wisdom thrown in between. I hope you find some inspiration here and if you read any of these, please give me a heads up and leave a comment below.
Saving Capitalism – Robert B. Reich
I saw a Netflix movie about this book and it got me hooked. Reich explain the whole dark hole where the US economy seems to be heading and what really goes on in the background in the government. I studied economy in high school and have a tendency to avoid it as much as possible, but this books will also tell you a lot about the history and the way big corporations are shaping today’s America.
The Book of Joy – Dalai Lama & Archbishop Desmond Tutu
In my quest to find out more about Buddhism as a philosophy, I found this book, which I hope will be as nice as the first one I read.
The Dip – Seth Godin
Seth Godin is a well known persona in the marketing world, but I have never read any books by him. I will give it a try this year.
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying – Marie Kondo
This book was a big hit I think this or previous year and I only now finally gave in and planning to read it.
The Obstacle is the Way (The ancient art of turning adversity to advantage) – Ryan Holiday
This is something very close to me personally, the idea that you succeed not because but despite adversity and challenges. The more challenging the way, the more satisfying the victory at the end. I’m really looking forward to read this one.
Make Your Bed (the little things that can change your life… and maybe the world) – William H. McRaven
The continuation of my morning routine studies as introduced in the Tim Ferris book – this one seems to be a great candidate to take it further.
How to be a Stoic (Ancient wisdom for modern living) – Massimo Pigliucci
Another one influenced by the Tim Ferris book – stoicism is an ancient philosophy that asserts that true happiness can be found only in the way we respond to external events. We cannot control the outside world, but we can choose how to respond to events. I started reading a few chapters, but it actually requires your full attention and careful consideration.
Peak (How all of us can achieve extraordinary things) – A. Ericson & R. Pool
I’ve never heard about this book before, it came as recommendation in my kindle feed and it looks really interesting. It’s based on the idea that you don’t have to be a genius to achieve extraordinary things, all it takes is practice and dedication.
Essentialism – The discipline pursuit of less) – Greg McKeown
Minimalism is something I started reading up on a month ago and it’s something I’m passionate about. I’m in the process of sorting through things in my own pace, and simplifying life as much as possible and I think this book will give me even more inspiration.
PS: Final note – printed vs kindle + where to buy books
printed vs kindle
Even though I love the smell and touch of books, I try to get most of them as a kindle version, instead of print. Those which I have printed have been chosen on purpose because I knew I would like to re-read and make pen or pencil notes or they require writing into them (like the Morning Journal or the 52 Lists of Happiness).
I am trying to avoid accumulating stuff for my home and one of the things I have to scale down is stocking up on physical books. In the spirit of minimalist way of life, I’m questioning the need of having a physical book instead of just digital. It’s not for everyone as many people who like books despise Kindle. For me it’s about having less clutter in my home, while still being able to enjoy the wisdom and luxury of having 250 books without having a dedicated bookshelf for them.
It’s not always easy to judge which book you would like to keep as a physical copy and you might regret not getting it in print in first place. One of the books which I considered buying second time as print version was the one by Tim Ferris, which is a like an encyclopedia of life advice and I would like to make hand-written notes all over it.
where to buy books
I used to get all my book in amazon, but right now if I need a book, I only use bookdepository.com – they have a massive selection and in most cases the books are cheaper because they have free worldwide delivery. The service is fast and easy to use and I had positive experience with their customer services too. One of my books got drenches in the rain waiting for me by the gate and they happily replaced it after seeing the pictures.