As a keen writer, I’m also a keen reader, and I tend to devour a couple hundred books every year, ranging from epic fantasy to business non-fiction and experimental poetry.
That means that I also know more than most about how books can help us to become the best version of ourselves we can possibly be. I also know how important it is to read widely, especially if you feel like you have some sort of higher purpose.
And so with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the books you should add to your shelves at the earliest opportunity.
1) “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey
First published in 1989, the year I was born, Covey’s masterpiece is all about aligning your values with the timeless principles that govern our society.
The idea is that there are principles and values, with principles sitting externally to us and values being something within us. Gravity is a principle. Loving animals is a value.
Covey says that values determine how we behave, while principles are what determine the consequences of our actions.
Oh, and those seven habits? They’re designed to foster independence, interdependence and continual improvement. But you’ll have to read the book to learn what they are.
2) “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl
This is the most difficult book of the lot to read, but not because of its language.
The chances are that you’ve heard of this one, but what you might not know is that it’s essentially a memoir of the time that Frankl spent in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War.
While Frankl was there, he helped many of his fellow inmates to find meaning in their lives, even against the worst backdrop imaginable.
Specifically, Frankl observed that people tend to find meaning either by completing tasks, caring for someone else or by facing suffering with dignity and stoicism.
It’s a great one to read when you’re searching for your own meaning.
3) “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell
This is one that I’ve read a bunch of times because of its importance for authors.
Don’t just assume that this is only for writers, though, because it’s actually important for anyone who tells stories – and that’s something we all do in the modern world.
Essentially, Campbell shares a blueprint for storytelling that’s built on what we see in mythology and which can be applied to any modern story. His work has been used all over the place, from Star Wars to The Lion King and Rick and Morty.
Stories help us to relate to one another, and marketers and business owners use them to sell their products. Even your online dating profile tells a story.
Perhaps it’s time for you to learn how to tell a good one.
4) “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell
The Cambridge Dictionary defines an outlier as “a person, thing, or fact that’s very different from other people, things or facts.”
And so by definition, if you feel you’re meant for something bigger in life, you feel as though you’re an outlier.
Malcolm Gladwell is an accomplished author with a string of influential non-fiction books to his name, to the point at which it was hard to pick only one. But it’s hard to argue against this one.
Outliers is one to read if you want to learn how to become an outlier yourself. Want to follow in the footsteps of Bill Gates or The Beatles? Gladwell is going to teach you how.
5) “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson
This is one of the more recent inclusions on this list, but we think it’s earned its place.
Mark Manson started out as a blogger, honing his writing skills there before turning to writing books. He’s clearly read more than his fair share of self-help books, and he knows that a lot of them don’t have much substance.
To combat that, Manson set out to write a book that shows how life is often a struggle and that’s okay. We’re not meant to be happy all of the time.
Manson’s writing and approach isn’t for everyone, but if you’re sick to death of the usual stuff you see in self-help books, this could well be the book for you.
6) “The Crossroads of Should and Must” by Elle Luna
If Manson’s book is for people who are sick of self-help books, Luna’s is for people who think visually.
That’s because she’s a talented visual artist as well as an author, and if you get your hands on one of the physical editions of this book, you’re in for a real treat.
The idea here is that throughout your life, you’ll constantly find yourself at a crossroads where you have to choose between two different paths: should and must.
In other words, you need to figure out what things you should do and what things you must do. Then you can navigate your life accordingly.
7) “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
The idea behind this book is that we have two different types of thinking available to us.
The fast thinking is system one thinking, which is instinctive and emotional. It’s the kind of thinking that we do when deciding how to react in an emergency. The slow thinking is system two thinking, which is slower and more logical.
Both of these kinds of thinking are important, but they come into play in different scenarios and so we need to know when and why to use them.
Fortunately, Kahneman’s book teaches us everything we need to know.
8) “Good to Great” by Jim Collins
The idea behind Jim Collins’ book is that some companies are able to go from being good to being great, while others can’t. Some make the leap but are unable to sustain it. But most companies never manage it at all.
There’s a reason why Collins was able to sell four million copies of what’s essentially another management book. It provides a road map that will help you to follow in the footsteps of companies like Walgreens and Wells Fargo and to go from good to great yourself.
True, not all of the companies that are profiled are still good examples of great, but it’s nearly a quarter of a century old and so we think Collins can be forgiven.
9) “Atomic Habits” by James Clear
I work with a lot of non-fiction authors, and Atomic Habits is by far the most popular book for people to want to imitate.
Then again, it’s sold over a million copies around the world, and so perhaps that’s why.
James Clear is considered to be an expert at making habits, and he teaches that rather than trying to make a big change in your life, you need to make lots of little ones. Examples of atomic habits include getting up ten minutes early or spending five minutes working on mindfulness.
And so if making big changes scares the pants off you but you want to make a change in your life, Atomic Habits might just be the book for you.
10) “The Icarus Deception” by Seth Godin
I’ve saved the best for last here, because Seth Godin is fantastic.
His most well-known books are all about business and marketing, but The Icarus Deception is the best fit for what we’re talking about in today’s article.
Here, he talks about treating work like art, which is what you’re going to have to do if you want to achieve something bigger than just picking up a paycheck.
As for the title, it hearkens back to the story of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and fell to his death when his wings were destroyed. Godin points out that Icarus was also warned not to fly too low – and says that flying too low is even more dangerous because it feels safe, but isn’t.
In other words, you can’t afford to play it too safe.
Now that you know the books I’d recommend checking out if you feel you’re meant for something bigger in life, it’s time for you to start reading.
I’m a big fan of buying the physical books and making annotations with sticky tabs and highlighters, but feel free to get the ebooks if you want to keep your costs down. You could also sign up at your local library.
In the end, the important thing isn’t which format you read in – it’s that you read them in the first place. Happy reading.