In 2015, I hadn't read a book since high school. I started a quest to read more. The goal is 500 books.
This page is where I list books as I finish them, with a short review of my thoughts and things I learned. Hopefully this list will motivate you to join me in this journey to learn more about our world!
If you have book recommendations, I'd love to hear them. You can reach me on Twitter or through my Contact page.
Lord Of The Flies by William Golding
“They were dirty, not with the spectacular dirt of boys who had fallen into mud or been brought down hard on a rainy day. Not one of them was an obvious subject for a shower, and yet – hair, much too long, tangled here and there, knotted round a dead leaf or a twig; faces cleaned fairly well by the process of eating and sweating but marked in less accessible angles with a kind of shadow; clothes, worn away, stiff like his own with sweat, put on, not for decorum or comfort but out of custom; the skin of the body, scurfy with brine – He discovered with a little fall of the heart that these were the conditions he took as normal now and that he did not mind.”
This book is so referenced in modern pop culture, I knew half the story before I even opened it. It tells the story of a group of school children who crash on a desert island, and without any parents or teachers around the are forced to survive on their own, causing them to fall into savagery. Pretty intense book with lots of action, and a cast of diverse characters that bring it to life. Glad I read it.
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
““UNTAC personnel (UN taskforce overseeing Cambodia’s elections) were given $145 per day for living expenses, in a country where the average income is about $120 per year. The worst were the Bulgarians, or as they were known, the Vulgarians. Even with their huge allowances, they had a habit of bringing whores to the hotel and not paying them in the morning. The managers used to get really pissed off having to deal with these angry taxi-girls. It got so bad that headquarters issued a directive asking UNTAC personnel to stop parking the UN vehicles in front of brothels all the time. Even as peacekeepers, the UNTAC personnel couldn’t keep themselves under control. There were so many brawls at Champagne (an upmarket brothel) between the Americans and French, eventually the bar just banned all American servicemen.”
A book that appears on pretty much every single “best novels of all time” list, I had high hopes for this one. Found it somewhat hard to read, and to be honest it was the kind of book I would pick off the bookshop shelf, read the first five pages and then just put it back down again. But since I’d bought it already, I saw it through to the end. Some exciting parts that had me engaged, but for the most part I found it pretty slow and painful.
Off The Rails In Phnom Penh by Amit Gilboa
““UNTAC personnel (UN taskforce overseeing Cambodia’s elections) were given $145 per day for living expenses, in a country where the average income is about $120 per year. The worst were the Bulgarians, or as they were known, the Vulgarians. Even with their huge allowances, they had a habit of bringing whores to the hotel and not paying them in the morning. The managers used to get really pissed off having to deal with these angry taxi-girls. It got so bad that headquarters issued a directive asking UNTAC personnel to stop parking the UN vehicles in front of brothels all the time. Even as peacekeepers, the UNTAC personnel couldn’t keep themselves under control. There were so many brawls at Champagne (an upmarket brothel) between the Americans and French, eventually the bar just banned all American servicemen.”
This book is mentioned all the time on the backpacking trial in Southeast Asia, but it was actually quite hard to find. It’s not even on Kindle so I had to order it from overseas in paperback. It was supposedly a memoir about some guy going mental in Cambodia during the lawless eighties and nineties, but I was a little disappointed when I found out it’s actually a journalist just retelling other people’s tales from his visit there. Still a pretty entertaining read, though not quite worthy of its cult following in my opinion.
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
“I love my mom so much. I don’t care if that’s corny to say. I think on my next birthday, I’m going to buy her a present. I think that should be a tradition. The kid gets gifts from everybody, and he buys one present for his mom since she was there, too. I think that would be nice.”
I had this book lying around the house and decided to read it as part of my 7 books in 7 days challenge. It follows a young boy navigating through high school life with a new group of friends after his best friend commits suicide. I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. It’s beautifully written and deserves all the success it has gotten. Had I read it as a teen/young adult, I would’ve loved it twice as much. Highly recommended.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
“If I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, it stands to reason that I’m going to get there. I’ve begun to think we sit far more than we’re supposed to.” He smiled. “Why else would we have feet?”
This book has a crazy amount of five star reviews on Amazon, and after reading the blurb I was certain I was going to love it. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I found it kind of flat. There were some special moments and overall it was worthwhile, but it didn’t inspire me the way I thought it would. I actually stopped reading it quite early on and came back to it a few months later. Not a bad book, but nothing life-changing for me.
The World Of Suzie Wong by Richard Mason
“If I was a painter, I would paint pictures of hills. Why don’t you paint pictures of hills? Why do you want to paint inside a bar?”
“Because I’m really only interested in people,” I said. “I think there’s more beauty in people.”
I found this in a second hand bookstore in Thailand, and was drawn to the cover of it. I had never heard of it before, but turned out it was a timeless classic from the fifties. Yet the writing does not feel old – I suppose, that’s why it’s considered timeless. The story follows the unlikely love story of a painter from England and a Chinese working girl, who meet in a Hong Kong brothel. It’s a work of beautiful storytelling and one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read, doubly so if you’re familiar with Hong Kong. Not only did I whiz through it, it inspired me to start writing again. Loved it.
Gold and Greenstone by Barry Crump
“If y’ want somethin’ bad enough for long enough you’ll end up gettin’ it.”
Barry Crump was a New Zealand novelist who was a few years before my time, but I picked up this old classic of his to see what he’s all about. The story follows a young woman who picks up a hitch-hiking old man as they end up travelling up and down New Zealand, eventually mining gold and greenstone with their hands to try and support themselves. It’s a simple story with lots of Kiwi charm, if you’re not from New Zealand it might be hard to appreciate the full story, but will still be enjoyable nonetheless. Would make the perfect book for someone backpacking through the country!
Living With A Seal by Jesse Itzler
“SEAL, I have a problem,” I say to him. “I didn’t bring any extra underwear.” “So what?” “I can’t run without underwear.” “Nah, bro, you can’t run without legs. It’s on.”
Incredibly funny book that will both entertain you and motivate you to get off your ass and become the greatest you. Jesse Itzler is a successful entrepreneur who, during a 100 mile relay race, sees a guy who is doing the full 100 miles on his own. He watches him power through the whole thing, even after breaking bones in his feet. After seeking him out to learn his secret, he learns he is a Navy SEAL and invites him to come live at his house for a month. He agrees on the condition that the author will “do everything he says”. What follows is a month of ridiculous training and funny stories, that is not only entertaining but shows what you can achieve when someone pushes you to your limits. Would highly recommend to everybody!
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
“So, like my three meals a day – along with sleeping housework and work – running was incorporated into my daily routine. As it became a natural habit, I felt less embarrassed about it. I went to a sports store and purchased running gear and some decent shoes that suited my purpose. I bought a stopwatch, too, and a read a beginners’ book on running. This is how you become a runner.”
This book was very well-reviewed so I gave it a shot. I finished it but wasn’t as charmed by it as some reviewers claimed to be. It’s written by a casual journeyman runner who is an author by trade, and he talks of how running has shaped his life and his daily routine, and the lessons he has learned along the way. It is also a translated work from Japanese so some of the magic may be lost in translation. Enjoyable book, but not one I’ll rush to recommend.
Ready To Run by Kelly Starrett
“The average runner can tolerate discomfort. It is indeed a Jedi power: You’re at mile 23 of a marathon, with 3 miles to go, and you’re ‘in extremis’ (Latin for “at the point of death”). Not only do you keep going, but you keep holding your goal race pace for 3.2 anguish filled and never ending miles. You have gone metaphysical.”
This is a technical book on running by Kelly Starrett, an amazing mobility coach who I’ve followed a long time. The book gives you 12 standards to judge your running by and daily tasks to help you improve on them every day. Amazing book for running injury prevention and effective for both beginner and life-long runners.
Born To Run by Chris McDougall
“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
A culture-defining book in the running community, Born To Run follows the author’s quest to find the Tarahumara: a near-mythical running tribe in the Mexican highlands. Rumours that they could run 60+ miles without stopping, without water and without shoes, this led him on a years-long quest to locate them, bring them to America to compete and show the world what they could do. The book was credited with starting the barefoot running craze in America, in which even Nike, New Balance and Adidas started putting out “barefoot” shoes to meet demand. A fascinating story told by a brilliant writer, this one will keep you page-turning in the middle of the night, whether you’re a runner or not.
Running To The Edge by Matthew Futterman
“Sometimes we don’t even know how far we will go when we start. And isn’t that the beauty of it?”
This book far exceeded my expectations and had me on edge from beginning to end, I zoomed through it in about a week. It follows coach Bob Larsen’s journey to becoming one of the most decorated running coaches in America, using his philosophy of running “at the edge”, the point where you simply cannot run any faster. The book is written like an action movie, following the lives of Larsen’s most successful students, from the rag-tag high school team “The Toads” to Olympians and marathon champions. If you’re into running, you’ll love every second of it.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
“I never believed in Santa Claus. None of us kids did. Mom and Dad refused to let us. They couldn’t afford expensive presents and they didn’t want us to think we weren’t as good as other kids who, on Christmas morning, found all sorts of fancy toys under the tree that were supposedly left by Santa Claus.”
This was recommended to me by a reader and is the best kind of memoir: the dysfunctional small town family memoir. Jeannette and her two siblings are a family on the move with an artsy fartsy mother and an intelligent but delusional and alcoholic father. The title refers to his promise to build the family his dream house; a glass castle. They end up going through various towns before settling in the small town of Welch in a falling-apart house. The story follows the family’s misfortunes, and Jeanette’s dream to escape the family and move to New York, which she daydreams about with her sister. Beautifully told, a classic.
Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins
“We all need small sparks, small accomplishments in our lives to fuel the big ones. Think of your small accomplishments as kindling. When you want a bonfire, you don’t start by lighting a big log. You collect some witch’s hair—a small pile of hay or some dry, dead grass. You light that, and then add small sticks and bigger sticks before you feed your tree stump into the blaze. Because it’s the small sparks, which start small fires, that eventually build enough heat to burn the whole fucking forest down.”
I read this book while training for my first marathon and it took me on a Goggins binge, where I started to listen to all his podcasts and read all his interviews as they were all so raw and motivational. His story is mesmerising but also very relatable, because all of us want to be better and do better and make our dreams become a reality, and Goggins shows us that if your will is strong enough then all is possible. I still listen to videos of him while I run and they get me to the finish every time. Life changing book.
The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
“Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with that there is”
I read this after seeing Denzel Washington’s character reading it in the movie “The Equalizer”. He seemed like such a wise and successful man so I figured, I should read it to become wise and successful too. This is actually my first Hemingway read, he has a way with clean prose and bringing seemingly ordinary and everyday scenes to life. I guess this is why his reputation is so, I mean, who else can write an entire novel about a man catching a fish?
The Truth by Neil Strauss
“Because, all too often, the things that we’re the most resistant to are precisely what we need. And the things we’re most scared to let go of are exactly the ones we most need to relinquish.”
In 2005 Neil Strauss wrote one of the most famous memoirs of the decade, “The Game”. It was so widely read and talked about , even down in New Zealand, that I pretty much knew the entire story without even reading it: the super-nerd turned pick-up artist who could suddenly have any women he wanted. The Truth is his follow up book on relationships, sex and women, and his struggle to finally commit to the one woman he loves. His journey takes him through sex cults, the swinging community, orgy clubs and open relationships and sex addiction therapy, on his quest to finally learn “the truth” about love.
Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Nelson Mandela’s memoir is a very long and very detailed, but is required reading for anyone taking a trip to South Africa. He explains in great detail the history of the black/white conflict and the long journey native South Africans went through to win their freedom. Mandela is a lawyer by trade so his style of formal and almost monotonous writing comes through, but the events he describes are so incredible that it will keep you glued to the page. Starts a bit slow, so give it time. It gets better and is an extraordinary read.
Where The Forest Meets The Stars by Glendy Vanderah
“Sometimes bad things happen to make good things happen.”
I didn’t think I would love this book that much, but weeks after finishing it I was still thinking about what a heartwarming story it was. The story begins with an 8 year old girl in rags who shows up on a woman’s doorstep. She claims to be from another universe and has borrowed a dead girl’s body. Her mission is to learn about Earth before going home. Of course the woman doesn’t believe her and assumes she’s a runaway, but as things develop parts of her story start to make more sense. You will likely fall in love with the characters that she creates so vividly in this book and the rollercoaster of emotions it takes you through. Beautifully written.
Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk
“Old George Orwell got it backward. Big Brother isn’t watching. He’s singing and dancing. He’s pulling rabbits out of a hat. Big Brother’s busy holding your attention every moment you’re awake. He’s making sure you’re always distracted. He’s making sure you’re fully absorbed. He’s making sure your imagination withers. Until it’s as useful as your appendix. He’s making sure your attention is always filled. And this being fed, it’s worse than being watched. With the world always filling you, no one has to worry about what’s in your mind. With everyone’s imagination atrophied, no one will ever be a threat to the world.”
Lullaby is a dark piece of fiction by the legendary Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club). The book follows the story of a man who figures out a way to kill whoever he wants simply be reciting a song in his head. He is forced to find a way to live with the responsibility of this power, how he abuses it, whether he uses it for personal gain or the greater good. Things become complicated when he finds out someone else also knows the song, and there is a chance even more people may find out. The story is continually dark and twisting, lots of food for thought, many life lessons floated throughout. Highly recommended 😉
Walden On Wheels by Ken Ilgunas
“How fickle we can be with freedom! How thoughtlessly do we surrender our autonomy! The fanciness of our dress, the make of our car, the brand of our gadgets, the name of our school. We spend our savings or go into debt for no other reason than to bask in the warm rays of peer approval. Yet fashions are slavishly followed one day and ridiculed the next. Be a devotee in the Church of the Consumer and you’ll forever live in fear of the capricious God of Style. Freedom, though, is an honest pair of eyes, a healthy physique, a cheerful laugh. Style goes out of style. Freedom is forever.”
Walden On Wheels is the memoir of a student who went into debt to get a useless college degree, then committed himself to paying off his debt as fast as possible by embracing the minimalist life. “Walden” is a tribute to the classic by Henry David Thoreau, who lived in a self-made cabin on Walden lake to escape from society. The “On Wheels” part of the title refers to when the author decided to go back to college, only this time he lived in a van in the campus carpark in order to remain debt-free. The book is well written, although the author can be slightly high-and-mighty and unlikeable at times. Nonetheless a pretty good read for those wanting an insight into the minimalist life.
Harry Potter by JK Rowling
“The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”
I was put onto this book by a couple of friends who were Harry Potter obsessives, after doing JK Rowling’s quiz and finding out I was a Ravenclaw I decided I had better read it. It’s nicely written and the story is captivating, but I was reminded many times while reading that it is in fact a kids book and to expect as much. I did enjoy it but didn’t feel compelled to rush out and read all the others. At least not yet anyway.
Sutton by J.R. Moehringer
“It’s just that there’s so much I wanted to say. So many things I never got to say, things I dreamed of saying, and now it’s too late. If only someone had told me back when I was your age that you need to say what’s in your heart, right away, because once the moment is gone – well, kid, it’s gone.”
I read this because I was such a huge fan of J.R. Moehringer’s memoir The Tender Bar that I had to read his first novel too. It’s a book based on the true life story of legendary bank robber Willie Sutton, with the unknown parts filled in by the author’s imagination. I zoomed through the book in a few days, it’s a very easy and touching read, with Moehringer slipping his own life lessons into the story through Sutton’s character and the relationships he has. Incredibly well written and will surely give you the feels at the pinnacle moments.
The Black Swan by Nicholas Nassim Taleb
“Consider a turkey that is fed every day. Every single feeding will firm up the bird’s belief that it is the general rule of life to be fed every day by friendly members of the human race “looking out for its best interests,” as a politician would say. On the afternoon of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, something unexpected will happen to the turkey. It will incur a revision of belief.”
The Black Swan explores the idea of uncertainty. Taleb argues that randomness is more prevalent than we like to admit, and that most major events in history, such as wars, depressions and natural disasters have been impossible to predict. Yet after they happen, we spend so much energy trying to predict the next one, and fail almost every time. A better approach, he argues, is that we should simply be prepared for randomness, and live our lives that way. The concept of the “Black Swan” comes from the historic belief that all swans were white. Yet seeing millions of white swans for centuries was not evidence enough that all swans were white. All it took was the sighting of a single black swan to discredit years of belief that all swans were white. The central idea of the book is, black swans can exist everywhere, in all areas of life, and we should be prepared for them.
Love, Africa by Jeffrey Gettleman
““It’s easy to explain why you like something. But love? That’s tricky. That’s a story, not a sentence.”
Love, Africa is a memoir by an American journalist who has a lifelong fascination with Africa. His entire life becomes about trying to get back there, whether for work, vacation, convincing his wife to move there with him, until he finally manages to settle and have a family there. His story is a mix of adventure, love, danger and friendship, all set against the backdrop of the beautiful continent and the chaos it brings. Personally I liked it but didn’t love it. I think you’d also need to be familiar with the continent to really appreciate all the minor details of the stories. Good read for the Africa enthusiast though.
The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson
“Things like taking a few dollars out of a paycheck, putting it into savings, and leaving it there. Or doing a few minutes of exercise every day—and not skipping it. Or reading ten pages of an inspiring, educational, life-changing book every day. Or taking a moment to tell someone how much you appreciate them, and doing that consistently, every day, for months and years. Little things that seem insignificant in the doing, yet when compounded over time yield very big results. You could call these “little virtues” or “success habits.” I call them simple daily disciplines. Simple productive actions, repeated consistently over time. That, in a nutshell, is the slight edge.”
The reviews on this book were so spectacular that I couldn’t not read it. I won’t say I was disappointed, because it is a very valuable and motivational book, but there was nothing in there I hadn’t read previously in similar books. The basic premise of the book is that all successes are the cumulative result of daily actions, repeated over a long period of time. If you can do something today, and again tomorrow, and again the next day, you will eventually reach any success you want. He also touches on some bigger concepts such as living a good life and making a difference. I did skim some chapters as it can be quite repetitive. Still a great read, and applicable to almost anyone.
CryptoAssets by Chris Burniske and Jack Tatar
“The world of cryptoassets may at times feel like science fiction; we imagine that when the Internet was first explained and discussed, people felt the same way. For many, change sparks fear. We understand that. But it also kindles opportunity. Tomorrow inevitably becomes today. Exponential change isn’t going away.”
After reading a few books on Bitcoin, I had a desire to dig deeper and get an understanding of the greater cryptocurrency asset class and the technicals behind it. Cryptoassets came highly recommended as a good entry point to better understand how cryptoassets work, how they’re valued and what the future looks like for them. To be honest I already knew a lot of the information shared in the book, but there were a lot of useful pieces of research that helped put things into context for me. If you’re an investing enthusiast and new to crypto, this one is definitely worth a read.
The Art Of War by Sun Tzu
“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”
In an interview from prison, Tupac said this book was one of the most impactful books he read while serving his sentence. I never forgot how composed and graceful he spoke, and wondered how he could do so when dealing with such injustice. I made sure to remember the name, and that I would surely read it if the need ever arose. That time came when I was involved in a drawn out legal issue and I felt like I was out of my depth. The book completely changed my mindset of “going into battle” and helped drill into my mind the concept of “winning without fighting”. Resolving conflicts peacefully without spending resources, energy or confrontation was the overarching principle, and there were also many wise principles for when you have no choice but to fight. Even though I had several lawyers working on my issue, Sun Tzu’s words became one of most trusted advisors during that time and I based a lot of my decisions on his ideas. It is not the easiest book to read, and very “Confucius say” in parts, but still helpful and full of wisdom. RIP Pac.
The Like Switch by Jack Schafer
“Golden Rule of Friendship—If you want people to like you, make them feel good about themselves”
While looking for books on body language this particular book showed up, and sounded like an interesting twist on a heavily covered subject. Jack Schafer is an ex-FBI agent who spent much of his career trying to win over suspects, criminals, colleagues, sometimes even tasked with convincing spies to turn and become double agents. His “Like Switch” strategy revolves around the “golden rule of friendship” which basically means that if you want people to do things for you, they need to like you, and to make people like you, you need to make them feel good about themselves. Based on this core concept he tells many great personal anecdotes of how he read people’s body language, words, and actions, and used them to calibrate his techniques to activate the “Like Switch” and win them over as friends and allies. Much of the book is common sense, but there are also some gems in there that will make your interactions with people a lot more interesting. Everyone should read it!
Spy The Lie by P Houston, M Floyd and S Carnicero
“Susan Carnicero, an expert in criminal psychology, was a CIA operative under deep cover before coming in from the cold and serving as a polygraph examiner and personnel screening specialist. Eventually, we shared an overarching, driving passion: to be able to know whether or not a person is telling the truth.”
I read this book while being involved in a legal matter, as I suspected that I was dealing with corrupt authorities in a foreign country. I had been lied to several times as a scare tactic (if you don’t do this we can take you to jail, etc) and thought this book might be helpful in trying to decipher the truth in some upcoming meetings. It turned out the book was not so helpful for my particular situation, as it is aimed more at someone who is doing the questioning rather than being questioned. However, it did turn out to be wildly interesting and helpful in other areas of general day-to-day life. The book is written by a trio of CIA operatives whose job it was to uncover spies and other people of interest. How often the knowledge they share can apply to everyday life will surprise you!
Blood River by Tim Butcher
“As you many know, Bukavu is like the capital for the aid community working in that region of the eastern Congo. Every group is there. And for the sake of security, all the groups are on the same radio net, so we all know what is going on. When the rebels arrived, we all just hit the deck, staying in our houses and listening in on the radio to try and work out what was happening. Well, there was this small aid group with a compound, where a young Irish girl was working with an older woman – from Denmark or Sweden, I think. Anyway, the rebels got in there somehow and we all lay there on the ground, listening on the radio, as this young woman was raped.”
Tim Butcher recounts his epic crossing of the Congo back in the early 2000’s in this gripping memoir. It was recommended to me by a good friend who told me I’d love it, and I did. The story is heartbreaking and fascinating and a great history lesson all in one. The extract above will probably tell you how haunting this book is, but I will say it’s so much more than that. Must read for any traveller!
The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya
“You had to remember your unit number—not a given at age six. You had to try to hang on to your name, though nobody cared about your name. You had to try to stay a person. You had to try not to become invisible. If you let go and fell back into the chaos you were gone, just a number in a unit, which also was a number. If you died, no one knew. If you got lost, no one knew. If you gave up and disintegrated inside, no one knew. I started telling people, I’m Clemantine, I’m Clemantine, I’m Clemantine! I don’t want to be lost. I’m Clemantine!”
Clemantine’s story is a rather special one and it’s a gift that she now has a best-selling memoir to document it. After fleeing Rwanda during the genocide, Clemantine’s journey takes her across seven different countries in Africa before finally being granted refugee status in the United States. She graduates from Yale, and goes on to rebuild her life amongst the backdrop of the haunting experience of the journey she left behind her. The thing I love about Clemantine’s story is how grounded and honest she is, helping us to understand the refugee experience, and helping us to understand that they do not want to be known as refugees at all. Beautiful story and highly recommended to all, especially fans of memoir.
The One Thing by Gary Keller
“If everyone has the same number of hours in the day, why do some people seem to get so much more done than others? How do they do more, achieve more, earn more, have more? If time is the currency of achievement, then why are some able to cash in their allotment for more chips than others?”
The One Thing is a book about simplicity. The premise is that doing less is actually more effective than doing more, and will allow to reach “success” much faster. Most people believe that to excel you should be busy and trying to do as much as possible. Keller explores the idea that if you instead just focus on doing one single thing really well every day, and forget about the rest, will bring you far superior results. I don’t think he needed an entire book about the idea (evident in the way he’s fleshed out the pages with stuff about living a meaningful life, following your passions etc), but still a great read overall.
The Complete Guide To Fasting by Jason Fung
“We are wired for feast and famine, not feast, feast, feast.”
I was introduced to the idea of fasting a few years ago, and after a few health nuts I follow on Instagram have been advocating for it a lot more decided to learn more about it. I did a 10 day juice fast early in 2018, and a 6 day water fast a few months later. I found it hugely beneficial, but decided I better learn how to do it properly before trying anything more extreme.
The book was a lot more insightful than I expected. Jason Fung is a doctor who specialises in diabetes treatment, and found the status quo treatment of diet and insulin was ineffective. People simply couldn’t follow the protocol, they would stop eating one bad food and start eating another. That’s when he had the bright idea; what if they just ate nothing?
Packed with science and studies, Fung explains in the book how regular fasting has been more effective than any other diabetes treatment he’s prescribed and has even completely reversed type 2 Diabetes in many patients. And it’s the most simple treatment in the world – eat nothing – as well as the cheapest treatment possible – it’s free. Lots of good information on best practices for fasting too. A good book for anyone looking to add another weapon of health to their diet, or anyone struggling with diabetes.
Mansa Musa & The Empire Of Mali by P. James Oliver
“You’re writing a book about Mansa Musa? I didn’t know anyone in America knew who he was. He was our Lincoln!”
Mansa Musa was an African leader who took Mali from relatively unknown to one of the richest empires in the world in the 1300’s. It was during his reign that Timbuktu become known as one of the world’s great cities, that Mali amassed a gold fortune so great that the quality life rivalled anything found in Europe at the time, and that traders from all over the world came to Mali to buy Malian gold. Based on the ancient writings of scholars in Timbuktu, many historians believe he could have been the richest human ever, with a gold fortune of about half a trillion dollars in today’s money.
This book is a recollection of Mansa Musa’s rule, much of it focuses on his famous pilgrimmage to Saudi Arabia, where he gave away so much gold in Cairo that he unintentionally depressed the price of gold for over a decade. Respect is paid to the many cultural quirks of Mali at the time, which is a testament to the care that has been put into the historical accuracy of the times. Great book as an introduction to pre-colonial African history.
David And Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
“Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.”
The book starts out really interestingly. Gladwell dissects the tale of David and Goliath, and explains why David wasn’t that much of an underdog after all. According to Gladwell, slingers, such as David, were instrumental to military success, and the good ones were absolutely lethal. The idea that David – an accomplished slinger – was an underdog to Goliath – a heavy swordsman – is simply untrue. Slingers, with the ability to combat from a distance, beat swordsman all the time.
Using this story as a foundation, he goes on to explore how other underdogs somehow managed to overcome the odds and “slay giants”. However, I feel like Gladwell reaches too far for many of his points. He dissects accounts of various people who have overcome the odds, such as the doctor who found a cure of child leukemia after suffering a traumatic childhood, or the dyslexic banker who took a chance and ended up the president of Goldman Sachs, but many of them feel like exceptions to the rule. It’s probably my least favourite book of Gladwell’s (I’ve read them all, Outliers is my favourite), but that’s not saying much for a Gladwell book – all of them are excellent!
Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper
“One of the things that’s most fascinating about Bitcoin, I have learned, is that it entrances fanatical conspiracy theorists, clear-eyed pragmatists, and diehard skeptics alike.”
When you ask yourself the question “What is Bitcoin?” you’re really asking the wrong thing. Instead you should be asking who invented it, why they invented it, what it’s supposed to do, where it came from. This book is a historical account of the invention of Bitcoin and answers all those questions in more detail you could have asked for.
I don’t know how long this guy took to write this book, but it must have been a long time. The amount of research required to write this would have been staggering. Everything from the very invention of Bitcoin by Satoshi Nakomoto to the madness it is today has been chronicled with meticulous accuracy, with each character described in such detail, I even remember watching the documentary “Banking on Bitcoin” later and thinking, wow, that’s exactly what I pictured that guy looking like.
Required reading for anyone invested or thinking about investing in Bitcoin.
“There are 2 billion people who have no bank accounts at all. There are another 4 billion people who have very limited access to banking. Banking without international currencies, banking without international markets, banking without liquidity. Bitcoin isn’t about the 1 billion. Bitcoin is all about the other 6 1/2. The people who are currently cut off from international banking. What do you think happens when you suddenly are able to turn a simple text-messaging phone in the middle of a rural area in Nigeria, connected to a solar panel, into a bank terminal? Into a Western Union remittance terminal? Into an international loan-origination system? A stock market? An IPO engine? At first, nothing, but give it a few years.”
When I first started trying to learn about Bitcoin, this was the book that always came up. I put it off for a few months, but when I finally read it, it blew my mind. It was one of those books that you just finish so quickly, because you read it every free moment you have.
I later learned more about the author, who was just a total nerd and had dedicated almost a decade to trying to understand this new technology (the same way he’d done with email and the internet 20 years prior). In this 2-book series, he explains what Bitcoin is, why we need it, and all the different ways it can change the world. It was interesting to see that much of the content in the book was from 2012-2014, and when I read it in 2018 some of his predictions had already come true. Really fun and easy read as well, perfect for the layman. If you know nothing about Bitcoin and would like to start learning, this is the first book you should read.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
“You loved so hard and hoped so much and then you ended up with nothing. Children who no longer needed you. A husband who no longer wanted you. Nothing left but you, alone, and empty space.”
After reading The Kite Runner, I was suddenly a lot more open to giving fiction books a chance.
This is a story about a Chinese American family trying to make sense of a death in the family. They are unsure whether it was a suicide, or a murder, or an accident. However, like all good stories, the book isn’t really about the death, but more about the family and the characters, how their lives fit together and how they all think they know each other but they really don’t. The writing was very unique, not like many stories I’ve read before. If you appreciate good story telling you will really love this one.
Into The River by Ted Dawe
Into The River is a story by New Zealand author Ted Dawe. The book follows a young Maori boy from rural New Zealand who is awarded a scholarship to a prestigious school in the big city. While there he discovers a new life and is constantly pulled between his Maori roots and fitting in with his new environment, mostly filled with students from rich, white families. There’s a lot in this book – sex, sexual orientation, drugs, fighting, and how teenagers manage to deal with it in their own unique ways. A Christian organisation actually got the book banned in New Zealand for a few months before it got overturned. That’s how I heard about it.
As a New Zealander I enjoyed the book as it touched on a lot of the cultural quirks about our country. If you’re visiting New Zealand it might be an interesting book to read too!
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
“It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime…”
I was recommended this book by several people, but nothing prepared me for the story when I finally sat down to read it. I don’t want to share too much as to not spoil the amazing story, but the basic setting of the book is two young boys growing up in pre-Taliban Afghanistan. It’s an amazing tale of friendship and loyalty and I think everyone should read it.
What I loved most about the book was it showed me how powerful fiction can be and how much we can learn from it. I saw Afghanistan in a completely different light which has also influenced my view of other people and countries. One of my all time favourites.
The Complete Turtle Trader by Michael Covel
“Give me a dozen healthy infants and my own specific world to
bring them up in, and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random
and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—
doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant, chef and yes, even beggar and
thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities,
vocations, and race of his ancestors.”
I was always a big enthusiast in markets and trading ever since my accounting days, so when I heard about the Turtle Traders I knew I needed to know more. The book is a true story about a Wall Street hot shot named Richard Dennis. Worth billions at his peak, he believed that trading was so simple that anyone could do it with the right techniques. He made a bet with his partner and then put out an ad in the newspaper and offered to teach anyone to trade, and even offer them a job trading at his firm. The handful of people he selected were from all walks of life and became known as “the turtles”. Many of them ending up making fortunes, starting their own trading firms and are still multi-millionaires today. The book doesn’t teach you the exact turtle technique, but does give some snippets of it. It does however include detailed stories of the turtles and where they ended up, which is fascinating in itself. Great read for any investing junkies out there.
Originals by Adam Grant
“Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new.”
The blurb of this book detailed how the real changes in our world came from “Originals” – people who rejected the norm and weren’t afraid to go against the crowd. I loved the opening chapters but it started to get quite slow through the middle. I struggled through much of it to be honest. The general message is that changing the world doesn’t happen through hard work or intelligence. It only happens when the norm is challenged and that requires creativity and doing something new. Seems to get a lot of good reviews, so give it a shot and see if you like it better than I did.
An African In Greenland by Tete-Michel Kpomassie
As a traveller this memoir will absolutely touch your heart. Tete-Michel is a boy from Togo who finds a book about Greenland in a second hand bookstore. Immediately he decides that he needs to go there. Over many years he journeys through Africa, relying on the kindness of strangers, up to France and Denmark and finally manages to board a boat to Greenland. Once there, he is obviously a huge novelty and is accepted with open arms into the Inuit life. The book is full of interesting descriptions of the Inuit life – everything from wife sharing to seal hunting to cross country sledding through snowstorms and all kinds of wild things. If I ever visit Greeland this book will certainly have been the inspiration.
I’m surprised this book is not more popular like On The Road by Kerouac. For some reason it’s impossible to find (I had to order it online from a second hand book store). But definitely hunt down a copy because it’s beautifully written – Tete-Michel is for sure one of the original globetrotting backpackers and the story is beyond inspirational.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
“You’re not required to save the world with your creativity. Your art not only doesn’t have to be original, in other words, it also doesn’t have to be important. For example, whenever anyone tells me that they want to write a book in order to help other people I always think ‘Oh, please don’t. Please don’t try to help me.’ I mean it’s very kind of you to help people, but please don’t make it your sole creative motive because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls.”
I found this book hugely valuable. As a creative it can be extremely unnerving to release your work to the world – it is like that feeling of giving a speech at high school, except now you’re speaking to the whole world. Liz Gilbert teaches us how to transmute this fear into something powerful and productive, and shows us how to embrace our individuality to create magic from nothing. Must read for all the artists out there.
My Booky Wook by Russell Brand
“To this day, I feel a fierce warmth for women that have the same disregard for the social conventions of sexual protocol as I do. I love it when I meet a woman and her sexuality is dancing across her face, so it’s apparent that all we need to do is nod and find a cupboard.”
I’m a huge Russell Brand fan, but more so of the new, evolved, socially conscious Russell Brand.
In this memoir I learned how much he has changed and actually what a wild child he was in the beginning. Drug addiction, sex addiction, prostitutes, everything. Of course I don’t demonise him for any of that – every man finds his path in his own way – but it was interesting to learn of his past despite him being wildly talented at his craft.
When you listen to Brand today, he comes across as incredibly articulate, kind-hearted and intelligent, so understanding the transformation behind the man, if you’re a fan, is both revealing and inspiring. Loved it.
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
I was never a huge fan of Aziz (he’s a stand up comic) but I found the premise of the book intriguing. As someone who has experienced both pre-internet and post-internet, and also in various different countries, I figured this book would have some interesting insights I could relate to and benefit from. When it finally went on sale for a few dollars I picked it up.
What I found interesting about the book was how deep the research was. This wasn’t just based on his own experiences, he’d run focus groups and studies all over the world and really investigated the culture of dating between different races, ages, sexes etc.
The insights on online dating were interesting and fell in line with many of my own experiences, and he had some interesting discoveries on how different countries viewed love and how that had changed over time. Good book for anyone who is single or just interested in relationship dynamics.
Choose Yourself by James Altucher
“Forget purpose. It’s okay to be happy without one. The quest for a single purpose has ruined many lives.”
Choose Yourself is an important book.
James Altucher is a guy who has done it all – made millions, lost millions, been happy, been sad, overcome the odds and everything else that comes with being “successful”. In Choose Yourself he lays out the real path to success, which is to stop relying on your boss for promotions, corporations for jobs, the government for help and to forge your own path by focusing on yourself.
There are lots of great case studies and examples, many of them from James’ own life, where he demonstrates what it means to “Choose Yourself” and control your own destiny in the age of the internet and the 21st century. Highly recommended for everyone, but especially the younger college-aged crowd.
More importantly, this book was written for you. In fact when the book came out, Altucher put out an offer that you needed to buy the book, but once you’d finished reading it you could email him and he would refund your money. There was a message in here he wanted everyone to hear. It wasn’t about money.
The Thank You Economy by Gary Vee
Gary Vee is all over social media and is known as the king of the grind-it-out, get-up-early, work-really-hard crowd.
One of Gary Vee’s big things is how businesses (and anyone) can use social media to accelerate results and change the way people do business and interact. In the Thank You Economy, he breaks down a new approach of building relationships with customers, which is about being accessible to customers and engaging with them directly. He has lots of examples of companies building loyal followings by appreciating customers through various social media campaigns, and why this channel of business-consumer relations is the way of the future.
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
“I’d tell men and women in their midtwenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.”
Phil Knight is the founder of Nike, who has been notoriously withdrawn from the public eye (I bet you’ve never even heard of him, despite being one of the richest people in the world and founder of one of the world’s most recognisable brands).
This memoir explores his beginnings, selling shoes out of the trunk of his car, to banding together with a loyal team to hustle hustle hustle, to finally listing and becoming a millionaire, to eventually taking over the world of fashion.
Lots of good lessons in this book, such as the value of friendship, trust, loyalty, determination, and most importantly, doing what you love. Awesome read.
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
“Anyone who has ever scanned the bookshelves of a new girlfriend or boyfriend- or peeked inside his or her medicine cabinet- understands this implicitly; you can learn as much – or more – from one glance at a private space as you can from hours of exposure to a public face.”
Gladwell explores our instincts in this book, wondering how we make such elaborate conclusions about people in a split second. For example, he explores studies that show how people can see a tall or handsome man and immediately conclude he is wealthy or successful or kind. Obviously these instincts are flawed, so Gladwell breaks down the reasons behind this behaviour and what we can do to harness the power of our instincts better.
I’m a big fan of Gladwell but this one was just okay. Still an interesting read though.
Made To Stick by Dan & Chip Heath
This is a marketing book but I think everyone would find it fascinating and could benefit from reading it.
Dan & Chip Heath explore the reasons why some ideas and stories stick (such as the boy who cried wolf or the story of the sour grapes) and why others fall into obscurity. Obviously it has nothing to do with money or corporations, as many stories have survived thousands of years just by word of mouth, and are still talked about today.
I found the book so insightful I actually gave away a few copies on my newsletter that month. Highly recommended.
Pin Action by Gianmarc Manzione
“It was a part of town on Route 1 in south Jersey that they knew better than to visit again by the time the night was through. They knew better than to do a lot of things by then. They knew to call it quits when they were ahead. They knew not to take small-time bets from gamblers who will mug you at knifepoint if they lose. And they knew you only humiliate a man in his own house if you have enough weapons to make it out alive.”
I remember zooming through this book while on a surf trip. After a hard day of paddling I’d lie in bed and read until I fell asleep, sometimes until the early morning. The book is the recounting of the gangster bowling culture in early America, where high-stakes bowling games were taking place in the bowling alleys of New York. Of course this attracted all sorts of interesting characters. The second half focuses mostly on Ernie Schlegel, a classic bowling hardman who eventually sets out on a journey to become a legitimate world champion. Really fun and exciting read, especially if you love great storytelling. True story too.
What The Dog Saw | Malcolm Gladwell
“They were there looking for people who had the talent to think outside the box. It never occurred to them that, if everyone had to think outside the box, maybe it was the box that needed fixing.”
Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favourite authors and storytellers, and I generally have to be in a certain headspace to read his books as they’re so thought-provoking and involved. What The Dog Saw is a collection of short essays where he investigates questions such as “Why are there hundreds of mustards but ketchup has never changed?” or “Why do Japanese women have breast cancer rates six times lower than American women?” By looking at these questions from unique angles, or perhaps, just closer than anyone else has, he tends to uncover ideas about us and the world that you don’t see on the surface. It is definitely not his best book, not for me anyway, but if you enjoy innovative, Freakonomics-esque ways of looking at the world, you will love this one.
The War Of Art | Steven Pressfield
“The artist cannot look to others to validate his efforts or his calling. If you don’t believe me, ask Van Gogh, who produced masterpiece after masterpiece and never found a buyer in his whole life.”
What does it mean to be an artist? How, and why, do we create art? Why is it so difficult? And how do we overcome it? Steven Pressfield writes of the debilitating difficulty of simply sitting down to write, or paint, or compose, and how the evils of procrastiation and “Resistance” prevent us from creating great things and reaching our potential. The main takeaway for me was about mindset towards your art – that it is war, a war against ourselves. As a creative, it might be one of the most important books you’ll ever read.
This Boy’s Life | Tobias Wolff
“I was subject to fits of feeling myself unworthy, somehow deeply at fault. It didn’t take much to bring this sensation to life, along with the certainty that everybody but my mother saw through me and did not like what they saw. There was no reason for me to have this feeling. I thought I’d left it back in Florida, together with my fear of fighting and my shyness with girls, but here it was, come to meet me.”
My Kindle continued to recommend this book to me at every turn, so I gave it a go. You may remember the film adaptation, many years ago, which starred Leo DiCaprio as the author. It’s a memoir of a boy growing up with a darling mother and a wack stepfather. It’s set in small town America, between various places, and is mostly about a young boy getting up to mischief while trying to survive boyhood. It was a fine read but honestly don’t remember much else from it, other than I read it quite quickly and enjoyed it.
The Liar’s Club | Mary Karr
“Now, Miss Karr, this looks like a bullet hole.”
Lecia didn’t miss a beat, saying, “Mother, isn’t that where you shot at daddy?”
And Mother squinted up, slid her glasses down her patrician-looking nose and said, very blasé, “No that’s where I shot at Larry.” She wheeled to point at another wall, adding “Over there’s where I shot at your daddy.”
This was tipped as the memoir to rule all memoirs, winning prize after prize, so being a sucker for true stories of course I had to read it. It’s a very candid story of a looney father, a mother who can’t stop getting married, sexual assault, family secrets, child abuse, guns, booze, and all sorts of other crazy shit set in small town Texas. I found it a little underwhelming. Mary Karr can write, but she has a neurotic way of writing things that kind of loses me at times. But nonetheless a fascinating story, and not a bad pick if you’re a fan of memoir.
How Not To Travel The World | Lauren Juliff
“I’d read over and over about how one of the most important things a solo female traveller could do is listen to their instincts. How could I, though, when mine always told me I was going to die? Intuition was a thing for me to ignore. If I paid attention to it, I’d never leave the house.”
This is a memoir by my friend Lauren who blogs over at Never Ending Footsteps (I interviewed her a while ago here). It is a classic backpacking tale, through Europe and Southeast Asia, and Lauren talks openly about overcoming her anxiety through travel, finding love on the road with a Kiwi rascal, and dealing with all the shit that the road throws at her along the way. It started slow for me, but once the story picked up I zoomed through the book in a couple of days. Ultimately it’s about finding the courage to follow your dreams, and a real, honest look into the backpacking culture and what a single female traveller can expect when they go to the road.
Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland | Lewis Carroll
‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where -‘ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
‘- so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’
I have been meaning to read this one for a while. It was as great as I expected it to be. Of course the book needs no introduction but if you’re looking the wackiest, weirdest, most cryptic and imaginative story ever, open this one up. Everyone seems to have a favourite chapter – mine was Chapter 7: The Mad Tea Party.
Think And Grow Rich | Napoleon Hill
“Charles Dickens began by pasting labels on blacking pots. The tragedy of his first love penetrated the depths of his soul, and converted him into one of the world’s truly great authors. That tragedy produced, first, David Copperfield, then a succession of other works that made this a richer and better world for all who read his books. Disappointment over love affairs, generally has the effect of driving men to drink, and women to ruin; and this, because most people never learn the art of transmuting their strongest emotions into dreams of a constructive nature.”
The premise of the book is this: Napoleon Hill spent decades studying the most successful people in history. The book was written in 1937, so his subjects were people like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. His goal was to find out what the true drivers of success were. He found that it started in the mind. Everything that exists in the world started in the form of a thought. Someone thought it, then they did it. Not the other way around. So if you control your thoughts, you control your world. It might take 3 or 4 reads before you really digest it all, but definitely a must-read.
Influence | Rob Cialdini
In this book Rob Cialdini breaks down persuasion into a science, giving real-life examples of when you get persuaded to buy or do things, and why it works on you. For example, when a used car salesman offers you a very low price, what is he actually doing? How does he end up convincing you to pay the higher price in the end anyway? How did a group of monks multiply the donations received simply by giving people cheap flowers on the street? These are all examples you or others will experience in their own lives, and this book explains how and why they work.
The second part of each chapter explains how to recognise these techniques being used on you, and how to resist or even flip the script on the “influencer”. It’s all very interesting. Perfect if you’re in the business of selling, or if you’re one of those hopeless people who can never resist buying stuff.
Into The Wild | Jon Krakauer
“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
The story of Chris McCandless is a polarising one. A boy, wickedly smart, accepted into Harvard, suddenly drops off the grid one day. He donates his $20,000 savings (or thereabouts, I don’t remember) to Oxfam, burns all the cash in his pocket, adopts a new name, ditches his car by the side of the road, and walks out into the wilderness. His two year journey takes him up and down America, into Mexico, and later up to Alaska, where he planned to live off the land for an entire summer. He was found dead, of sickness and starvation, in the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. He was 24.
After his death, McCandless became somewhat of a hero amongst backpackers, nomads, hippies and other counterculture movements. This book explores his story – if you’re a traveller at heart you’ll love it.
The Millionaire Fastlane | MJ DeMarco
“In a few short years, JK Rowling, author and owner of the Harry Potter brand, went from being a 32 year old divorced English teacher to a media mogul worth over $400 million. The single mom has sold over 30 million copies of her books in 35 different languages. I guess she didn’t hear the excuse, “I’m a single mom and I don’t have time.” Ms. Rowling recalls the happiest point of her life – not the acquisition of millions, but the point at which she could write full time. Similarly, Dan Brown has sold over 80 million copies of the DaVinci Code in 51 languages. Let me be perfectly clear: If you sell 80 million of ANYTHING, you will be a very rich human being.”
If you’ve read your fair share of finance books the first half will be stuff you’ve heard before. The second half of the book is where he talks about the “Fastlane”; a process that supposedly anybody can use to become a millionaire within 5 years. Again the concepts are nothing new but he does manage to explain them in an easy-to-follow process that a layman can understand. He talks a lot about mindset and lifestyle changes, such as becoming a saver not a spender, a producer not a consumer, and building scaleable businesses through the “Law of Effection”, which states to earn millions of dollars you need to affect millions of people. If you can handle his “I’m so much smarter than everyone” tone, it’s a pretty good read.
When Breath Becomes Air | Paul Kalanithi
“Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?” she asked. “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?”
“Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I said.
Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering. Years ago, it had occurred to me that Darwin and Nietzsche agreed on one thing: the defining characteristic of the organism is striving. Describing life otherwise was like painting a tiger without stripes. After so many years of living with death, I’d come to understand that the easiest death wasn’t necessarily the best. We talked it over. Our families gave their blessing. We decided to have a child. We would carry on living, instead of dying.”
This is the memoir of a surgeon who was diagnosed with cancer, and the battle to live a fulfilling life knowing it was going to end much sooner than he had planned. The book will mean many different things to different people. There are so many life lessons tangled within each chapter, but ultimately it’s a reminder that we must all face death at some point, and therefore death is not the real challenge. The real challenge is, can we face it with integrity and acceptance? Can we meet death without bitterness and defeat? Can we die with gratitude for a life well lived, no matter how long or short we are given? It’s a difficult yet beautiful story, one we should all read.
The Tender Bar | J.R. Moehringer
“People just don’t understand how many men it takes to build one good man. Next time you’re in Manhattan and you see one of those mighty skyscrapers going up, pay attention to how many men are engaged in the enterprise. It takes just as many men to build a sturdy man, son, as it does to build a tower.”
I knew I wanted to be a writer after reading this one. This is a painfully beautiful story, beautifully written, beautifully honest, with beautiful characters you will come to adore. It is not a crazy story, in fact it’s quite an ordinary American story, but the author paints such a vivid picture of his life that you can’t help but feel a part it, like it’s happening before your eyes. He takes you through his childhood growing up with an absentee father, his dream of going to Yale, his love for his trying mother, his rocky adolescence, his first love, and everything else that sent him into manhood. The backdrop of all this, though, is the local bar where his uncle tended each night, and where the characters he met on the stools as a toddler eventually became his father figures who guided him from boy to man. My all time favourite!
The Art Of Learning by Josh Waitzkin
“I think a life of ambition is like existing on a balance beam. As a child, there is no fear, no sense for the danger of falling. The beam feels wide and stable, and natural playfulness allows for creative leaps and fast learning. You can run around doing somersaults and flips, always testing yourself with a love for discovery and new challenges. If you happen to fall off – no problem, you just get back on. But then, as you get older, you become more aware of the risk of injury. You might crack your head or twist your knee. The beam is narrow and you have to stay up there. Plunging off would be humiliating. While a child can make the beam a playground, high-stress performers often transform the beam into a tightrope. Suddenly you have everything to lose, the rope is swaying above a crater of fire, increasingly dramatic acrobatics are expected of you but the air feels thick with projectiles aimed to dislodge your balance. What was once light and inspiring can easily mutate into a nightmare.”
The Art Of Learning is part “how-to” and part memoir, where Josh shares his unique learning theories that have allowed him to rapidly excel in whatever discipline he chose. An example – when he started learning chess, instead of learning opening sequences and playing full matches, him and his coach would simply play games of king and pawn versus king – he learned the game backwards. This allowed him to better understand the power of the king and pawn, and how to control space. He applied these unique techniques to advance to world-class status in both tai chi and jiu jitsu – two notoriously difficult disciplines to learn.
I feel it’s not the most practical book, perhaps it’s a bit high level for me, but the story and theories themselves are truly fascinating. Would highly recommend, especially for anyone in martial arts or competitive sport.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
“I got, finally, the hands I always wanted. Hands just like the ones Tyrone taunted me with all those years ago. At the base of my right forefinger is an inch-and-a-half diagonal callus, yellowish-brown in color, where the heels of all the knives I’ve ever owned have rested, the skin softened by constant immersions in water. I’m proud of this one. It distinguishes me immediately as a cook, as someone who’s been on the job for a long time. You can feel it when you shake my hand, just as I feel it on others of my profession. It’s a secret sign, sort of a Masonic handshake without the silliness, a way that we in the life recognize one another, the thickness and roughness of that piece of flesh, a résumé of sorts, telling others how long and how hard it’s been.”
Who doesn’t love Anthony Bourdain? I’ve been a fan ever since I saw him have a foodgasm over a bowl of pho in Vietnam.
Kitchen Confidential is his no holds barred memoir of his early life as an upcoming chef in New York City. For me, it was less of a chef’s memoir, and more a story of what a man can achieve when he loves what he does and follows his dream, because the ups and downs will test you, but if you push hard enough you’ll come out the other end smiling. Will always be a fan of Anthony Bourdain.
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
“I keep remembering one of my Guru’s teachings about happiness. She says that people universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it.”
Elizabeth Gilbert’s wildly famous memoir tells the story of a successful, married writer in New York City who supposedly has it all, yet is on the verge of a complete mid-life meltdown. Once her divorce is finalised, she drops it all and embarks on a one year journey of self discovery.
It’s not a book that I particularly enjoyed (it took me several months to finish it), and I think it’s quite clear I wasn’t the target audience. But as a traveller, it raised many questions to reflect on. What is it about travel that makes it so healing and therapeutic? What are we running from, and toward, when we travel? Is it the people or the places that really make travel so transformational? That’s what made it worth reading for me.
The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss
“For a long time, I’ve known that the key to getting started down the path of being remarkable in anything is to simply act with the intention of being remarkable.”
When I first read this book, I didn’t really have a reason for reading it. I just decided to pick it up because Tim’s first book, The Four Hour Work Week, was excellent. So I zipped through this book and kind of enjoyed it, but it was just okay.
When I had a bad shoulder injury a year later, I went back to the book and read it in its entirety, in particular the chapters around injury prevention and cure. On the second read, the book blew my mind, and changed my life. If you live a reasonably physical life, have an interest in health and fitness and enjoy pushing yourself – definitely read this. It has so many interesting information points and experiments that it will be impossible not to find something you find beneficial and interesting.
Fresh Off The Boat by Eddie Huang
“Dave had no shoes. This was something I noticed was very common with white people down south. They went everywhere with no shoes. Their parents would drive barefoot, then throw a pair of sandals on the asphalt as they walked out of the car and into Publix. I didn’t get it. The bottoms of their feet were all red, there were little pieces of gravel between their toes, and somehow they didn’t care. I mean, Dominicans hate socks and love Aventura, but at least they still got Jordan 7s on. Then Dave invited zhimself and his stank-ass feet into our house. I liked the guy, but I knew that as soon as my mom saw him walking around on the carpet with his dirty-ass bare feet, she would bug. Everyone knows to take their shoes off in an Asian home, but the fuck you supposed to tell Huckleberry Finn when he rolls in barefoot? There’s no answer for that. It’s unprecedented behavior on our continent, unless you’re a wounded samurai that got his wooden chancletas stolen.”
When you grow up looking different to everyone else, it becomes a part of who you are. It’s something that affects every single minute of your day. Do you belong, or don’t you? It shapes your life, your journey. Eddie writes candidly about his life before 30, and the continuing challenge of finding acceptance as his own person in a society of racial profiles. Mixed in are lots of family hard love, drug dealing, laughs, nuggets of wisdom, many victories, constant hustle and a lot of anger – his story is thrown at you full force in the voice his fans know as uniquely his. If you don’t relate, much of it may come off as bitter and over-dramatic. But if you’ve experienced a similar upbringing, you will be nodding, laughing, and rooting for him all the way.
The Fastest Billion by Charles Robertson
“Imagine a continent torn by multiple wars, beset by ethnic and religious warfare, malnutrition, disease and illiteracy –all of it complicated by poorly drawn borders, a still potent post-colonial stigma and the incessant meddling of outside powers. With a single exception, per capita income hovers at $400, primary school education reaches only a fraction of the region’s vast population, and its authoritarian rulers ensure any revenue generated by the region’s rich natural resources is spent on personal, rather than national priorities. Too many readers will by now have concluded that the continent referred to above is my own, Africa. In fact, while Sub-Saharan Africa has suffered the same problems in recent decades, the region described above is Developing Asia in the mid-1970s: an area of the world that had endured 200 years of decline, imperial domination and economic stagnation before beginning on the path that would transform it into the most economically vibrant zone on Earth. Just as SSA has suffered through its despots and destitution, so the seedlings of transformation have pushed through the African soil. As an increasing number of economists, investors and financial policymakers have realised, Sub Saharan Africa has emerged from its own malaise, into a dawn that promises growth to rival, if not surpass, that recorded by Asia’s ’Tigers’ over the past two decades.”
Every day in Africa medicine is advancing, democracies are emerging and incomes are rising. There are skyscrapers going up in almost every capital. Education is expanding, fast. More people are voting and campaigning in elections. A middle class is starting to emerge. Banking and internet is sometimes more advanced than many first world countries. It is at the forefront of a new age.
The Fastest Billion explores this emergence, through research, hard data, historic comparisons and basic economic principles. It’s a fascinating look behind the scenes of Africa’s development (for those who are interested), and gives estimates of when, and why, certain milestones will be achieved (literacy rates, democracy, GDP levels). If you have an interest in Africa, or are planning to visit for the first time, this book will help you make sense of what you’re looking at – a continent on the brink of change.
The Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson
“A year before I was scheduled to be released, there was talk that I would be granted an early release. A lot of national press people were questioning my conviction. My lawyers were talking to the court and to the Washingtons. Apparently, they had reached an agreement. I would pay the Washingtons $1.5 million and I would apologize to Desiree and I would get out of jail immediately. I didn’t even have to admit to raping her, just apologize for it. Some of my friends like Jeff Wald were pushing for the apology. “Mike, I’d admit to raping Mother Teresa to get the fuck out of jail,” he told me. “If I apologize, the prison in my head would be worse than the prison I’m in now,” I told him. So they brought me to Judge Gifford’s courtroom in June of 1994 for a sentence reduction hearing. I was dressed in denim pants, a light blue work shirt, and work boots. The new prosecutor asked me if I had anything to say. “I’ve committed no crime. I’m going to stick with that to my grave. I never violated anyone’s chastity.” That wasn’t what anyone wanted to hear. They sent me right back to jail.”
I love Mike Tyson. I’ve watched almost all his fights, watched all his interviews. He’s a warrior. But after reading his story, I can truly say I admire him. Mike Tyson’s story is a hard one. After reading his memoir I can’t even understand how he’s still alive, let alone how he became one of the greatest fighters of all time.
This memoir is a story of the highest highs and the lowest lows, from a man largely misunderstood. The media, as always, tells you what they want you to know. The memoir fills in the gaps behind the headlines. He is truly a man who has survived it all, and I’d love to shake his hand one day. Best book I read all year.
Models by Mark Manson
“Men don’t seem to understand that if a woman rejects him because he’s short, or because she doesn’t like his hair, or because she finds him boring, then he wasn’t going to enjoy being around her anyway.”
Mark Manson is a blogger I’ve followed for a while now (he should be familiar to many of you too, I share a lot of his articles!). His first book, Models, is a book about women, or more specifically, what men should do to improve their relationships with women. It feeds from his experience as a self-help writer and a dating coach. I found it a case of somewhat over-complicating things (he himself concedes this in the book) but there’s a lot of wisdom in here. He breaks down situations a lot of guys will be familiar with, and analyses them in a way that will make you go “I never thought of it that way.” A good read for guys in their twenties finding their way in the world.
Open by Andre Agassi
“I play a kid I recognize from juniors, Pete Something. Sampras, I think. Greek kid from California. When I played him in juniors, I beat him handily. I was ten, he was nine. The next time I saw him was some months ago, at a tournament. I can’t recall which one. I was sitting on a beautiful grassy hill beside my hotel, just after winning my match. Philly and Nick were sitting alongside me. We were stretched out, enjoying the fresh air, and watching Pete, who’d just taken a beating in his match. He was on the hotel court for a post-match practice, and nearly every ball he hit looked bad. He missed three of every four swings. His backhand was awkward, and one-handed, which was new. Someone had tinkered with his backhand, and it was clearly going to cost him a career. ‘This guy will never make it on the tour,’ Philly said. ‘He’ll be lucky to qualify into tournaments,’ I said.”
I grew up watching Andre Agassi play tennis. My Mum was a big tennis fan and I spent many nights watching Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras duke it out on TV with my brothers.
This book is all tennis – his childhood as a prodigy, his rivalry with Pete Sampras, his hate for Wimbledon and the French Open, but the message is about loyalty, family, and what it really takes to be the best in the world.
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
“The announcer called the LA bus. I picked up my bag and got on, and who should be sitting there alone but the Mexican girl. I dropped right opposite her and began scheming right off. I was so lonely, so sad, so tired, so quivering, so broken, so beat, that I got up my courage, the courage necessary to approach a strange girl, and acted. Even then I spent five minutes beating my thighs in the dark as the bus rolled down the road. You gotta, you gotta or you’ll die! Damn fool, talk to her! What’s wrong with you? Aren’t you tired enough of yourself by now? And before I knew what I was doing I leaned across the aisle to her (she was trying to sleep on the seat) and said, ‘Miss, would you like to use my raincoat for a pillow?’”
Bob Dylan wrote “I read On The Road in 1959 and it changed my life like it changed everyone elses.” How can you not read it after that?
On The Road is a memoir of Kerouac’s documenting his journeys across America during the 40’s with friend Dean Moriarty. While Kerouac’s character is kind of reserved, Moriarty could be described in today’s terms as that boozy Australian backpacker who’s been travelling forever doesn’t give a shit about anything. It’s a potent mix.
To be honest, I struggled through it. It had some great moments but it wasn’t for me. Still, I’m glad I finally read it.
What I Learned Losing A Million Dollars by Jim Paul
“I made $248,000. In one day, a quarter of a million dollars. The high was unbelievable. It’s literally like you expect God to call up any minute and ask if it’s okay to let the sun come up tomorrow morning.”
This book came highly recommended from quite a few people. It documents Jim Paul’s incredible run of success as a trader of lumber and bean oil, amassing over a million dollars in profits over a few years, to finally losing it all on one bad trade.
The first half of the book is a memoir. It tells his early beginnings as a hustler at the golf club he used to caddy at when he was a kid, to his rapid rise as a floor trader in New York, and how a love of money and shiny things had consumed him from a very young age.
The second half of the book is reminiscent of a university textbook. He talks about different trading strategies, with the focus on being how to not lose money, rather than how to make it. To be honest you need a background in finance or accounting to really understand the second half. If you’re not familiar with terms like margin call, short selling and futures, it will be mostly gibberish to you. Still, a fun read for those who are interested.
Making Mavericks by Frosty Hesson
“To say that Mavericks isn’t for kids is doing it an injustice. It’s hardly for people. I’d been surfing it for seven years when Jay had his life-altering moment. I had seen world-renowned big wave riders paddle out, take one look at the building-sized, dark green wall of ocean rushing at them with such incredible force that the water actually gets sucked backward up the face of the wave, and then just turn around and go home. These were people who’d conquered breaks all over the globe, but they simply wanted nothing to do with Mavs. Jay, though, he wanted to slay dragons.”
When Jay Moriarty wiped out on the famous building-sized waves at Mavericks, he became a household name, at least in the surf community. Taking on the granddaddy of big wave surfing at age 16, no one could be believe he survived the wipe out, let alone paddled back out to catch another wave a few minutes later.
Making Mavericks is the memoir of big-wave surfer Frosty Hesson, a Mavericks regular and Jay Moriarty’s mentor/coach. Most people outside the surf community will have never heard the names Frosty Hesson or Jay Moriarty, and in my mind that’s what makes the story so compelling. They were regular guys like the rest of us, with jobs and families and bills – it’s what they stood for that made them special. Highly recommended.
The Food Traveler’s Handbook by Jodi Ettenberg
Jodi from Legal Nomads was a big inspiration for me to start blogging, so of course when I learned she had written a book I had to grab a copy.
The book is a travel guidebook of sorts, focusing solely on food – how to find good, authentic food while travelling, how to stay safe while eating in developing countries, what to do when you get sick, plus many personal anecdotes of her travels throughout the world. It’s a nice short read, and I think any novice backpacker who plans on chowing in street food stalls and local markets should pick it up. As someone who has gotten sick from food on the road, Jodi’s knowledge is certainly worth having.
Imagine: A Vagabond Story by Grant Lingel
I was intrigued when this book popped up on my Kindle suggestions, and decided to give it a shot. It’s written by a college-aged, white, male New Yorker, who skips his last semester of college to go on a backpacking trip around Mexico and Central America. It’s written almost like a diary and is a simple, chronological narration of his trip. I wouldn’t say the book was inspiring in any way, or there was any real lessons to take away from it, but the sex and drugs made it pretty entertaining and I enjoyed it. It’s quite a typical backpacking story, I think most young males will enjoy it.
When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him
“Tadpoles. Crickets. Toads. Centipedes. Mice. Rats and scorpions. We eat anything. As we till the earth, we look upon bugs as buried treasure. Our eyes scan the soil, tucking any edible treat in a waistband, a pocket, tied into a scarf. Later the prize is retrieved, skewered on a stick, and stuffed into the fire. Those who haven’t caught anything watch, their begging eyes following each move. We must ignore them, and also ignore what we eat. There is no revulsion. Food is food. Anything, everything tastes good—even the smell of roasting crickets makes stomachs rumble with desire. Yet even the smallest creatures, the rodents, the insects, are becoming scarce. Some days, our meals for the entire day consist of boiled leaves. Our lives are reduced to a tight circle. Each day revolves around what we can find to eat for the following day. And until it comes, we think about food. All day. All night. Hunger owns us.”
This is the first book that has every brought me to tears. Before I visited Cambodia, I downloaded this book at the airport and started reading. It gripped me from the first line, I zoomed through it in about 3 days. When I visited Phnom Penh, and visited the Killing Fields and the genocide museum, it was all brought to life by this memoir – which told all the details in painful detail. I remember emailing the author right after telling her how powerful and heart-wrenching her story was, and how much I appreciated her writing it. An absolute must read if you ever visit Cambodia.
Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
“Thus, the question of how and when to start vagabonding is not really a question at all. Vagabonding starts now. Even if the practical reality of travel is still months or years away, vagabonding begins the moment you stop making excuses, start saving money, and begin to look at maps with the narcotic tingle of possibility. From here, the reality of vagabonding comes into sharper focus as you adjust your worldview and begin to embrace the exhilarating uncertainty that true travel promises.”
Considered a bible for the backpacking generation, Vagabonding is a book that offers a new way of living – a way of freedom, few material things, no alarm clocks, living frugally, and travelling the world. What is most compelling about the book is how Potts intertwines the integral facets of travel – openness, mindfulness, acceptance, frugality, appreciation – into everyday lives. Vagabonding, he argues, is not a way of travelling, but a way of life. The perfect book to read if you suffer from any level of wanderlust – the book will light your imagination on fire, but not without giving you many practical tips to bring those desires to life, too.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
“Everything we have learned in Outliers says that success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed. If it were, Chris Langan would be up there with Einstein. Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”
This is the first book I ever read from Gladwell, and is still my favourite to date. It’s a compelling read about how success happens, and how much the successful person in question actually has to do with it. The answer: A lot less than you think. Gladwell looks into the stories of super successful people, such as Bill Gates, and pinpoints “gifts” they received in their lives that, through no doing of their own, made a huge contribution to their success. He also points to equally talented people who were not lucky enough to receive these “gifts” who have drifted into obscurity and sometimes poverty. Super insightful and urges you to see successful and non-successful people very differently.
The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau
“As you begin to think like an entrepreneur, you’ll notice that business ideas can come from anywhere.”
I picked this book up after discovering the author’s blog, who at the time was on a mission to visit every country in the world. He had an impressive resume and this book was exactly what I was looking for at the time, having just started a blog myself.
The premise of the book is that lucrative business ideas can be started for as little as $100. They don’t require large amounts of capital and no special skills or education. Just a willingness to view the world differently and take advantage of opportunities. There are many case studies within the book of people who have done exactly that, although some were more realistic for the average person than others. Still a great book, not quite on the level of 4 Hour Work Week but worthwhile for the budding entrepreneur.
The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss
“If you spend your time, worth $20-25 per hour, doing something that someone else will do for $10 per hour, it’s simply a poor use of resources.”
Often considered the bible of the digital nomad era, the 4 Hour Work Week is a book Tim Ferriss wrote after managing to multiply the productivity of his business, all while living in a different country and outsourcing his tasks around the globe. Eventually he turned this into a step-by-step method that anyone could follow. In the book he explores lots of interesting concepts, such as outsourcing menial tasks to places like India for $2-$4 per hour, and instead using your time to work on jobs where you can earn $50-$100 per hour. The book will be a real eye-opener for someone who is new to the remote work/digital nomad movement – lots of outside-the-box concepts and new-age thinking that will surely be like nothing you’ve seen in a traditional 9-5 office.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams.”
Probably one of the most popular books among backpackers, I read this after returning home from a long trip through Asia. The story is about a young shepherd who goes looking for a fabled alchemist – a man who can turn anything he touches into gold. There are many nuggets of wisdom throughout the book, but the overarching message is that you should never give up on your dreams, and that sometimes they are much closer than you think. Beautifully written and inspiring tale, perfect for the road.