I was lucky enough to be born into a family full of readers. I started reading when I was young and I have never stopped. Instead of playing video games or watching TV as a kid I was reading books or listening to audio tapes. I can’t overemphasize the importance of reading on my development as a child, and my continuous growth as an adult. Continuing to grow and learn as an adult is an incredibly important thing to do.
Living a fulfilling life is the most important thing, but through reading great books you can live thousands of lives and learn from the greatest people in history. Put the books in this list to good use, pick one up and let it lead to build momentum to more reading. When you need more book ideas come back to this list.
Top 10 Recommended Books:
People are usually at one of two extremes when it comes to reading. The first group does no reading at all, if you are part of this group I highly recommend you start reading – you can find some great books in this list. The second group are avid readers, if you are in this group I hope you find some new books in this list to read and enjoy.
I recommend you read or skim through the entire list because it’s grouped by genre and some of the best books are at the bottom.
The Grit Zone Reading List
“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
On The Shortness of Life by Seneca (Amazon). The stoic philosopher Seneca teaches us that life is long if we live the right way. We often lose sight of what’s valuable in life and rush through our lives looking for things to give us meaning. This book will help you slow down and show you there is no point rushing through life.
Letters from a Stoic by Seneca (Amazon). This is a collection of letters that Seneca sent his contemporaries. These letters touch on day-to-day issues as well as deeper philosophy. The wisdom of Seneca is still applicable to our hectic, modern lives. This book is perfect to dip in and out of.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (Amazon). Marcus Aurelius was the Roman Emperor from 161 AD to 180 AD. Meditations is a collection of his personal writings. The book was never meant for publication. Think of it as an insight into the deeply personal notes and writings on stoic philosophy.
Beyond Good and Evil by Friederich Nietzsche (Amazon). Nietzsche predicted the collective loss of faith in the Western world. It is an incredibly powerful book by an author that people frequently misrepresent. Nietzsche knew this would lead to a rise of nihilism and he formulated a philosophy that was deeper than the Christian morality of good and evil.
Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl (Amazon). Frankl’s experience and writing is truly one of a kind. He was a holocaust survivor and formulates a thesis of why some people could survive the concentration camp and some people were psychologically and physically broken. Out of these experience Frankl also created Logotherapy.
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro (Amazon). This is one of the greatest books of the 20th century. It chronicles the life of Robert Moses, the legendary New York City builder. Moses evolved from a park builder to a political titan. He was the greatest builder America has ever known. This book is a must-read for any serious reader.
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (Amazon). Nelson Mandela is a legendary politician. He led South Africa out of apartheid and was the country’s first black president. This is one of the most inspiring biographies I have ever read. It also illustrates some of the lesser known tactics Mandela needed to use to gain political power.
Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon (Amazon). Caravaggio was a brilliant painter and a troubled human. He was also incredibly bad ass and lived in a fascinating era. The Renaissance is thought of positively by nearly everyone, this book opened my eyes to a lot of issues in that period.
Machiavelli in Hell by Sebastian de Grazia (Amazon). Machiavelli may be the most misrepresented thinker of the last millennia. He was a playwright, philosopher, and political theorist. He was also the first political thinker to separate politics and ethics. This book is incredibly underrated for a Pulitzer Prize winner.
Memories, Dreams, Reflections by C.G. Jung (Amazon). Jung is an incredibly influential thinker and psychologist. His ideas about the unconscious mind and dreams should be read by every human being – especially the overly rational people. A must read book for anyone interested in psychology.
The 50th Law by Robert Greene and 50 Cent (Amazon). This book is a collaboration between Robert Greene and 50 Cent. The main principle in this work is Fear Nothing. The stories in this book tell the rags to riches store of 50 Cent. It chronicles his rise from a street hustler to a multi-millionaire rapper and entrepreneur.
Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow (Amazon). Rockefeller was history’s first billionaire. This book is incredibly well researched and Ron Chernow’s writing really brings to life the psychology, religion, and business acumen of Rockefeller. This is the 2nd best biography I have read, after The Power Broker.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (Amazon). Maya Angelou’s autobiography is incredibly psychologically powerful. Angelou has dealt with a lot of pain in her life, and this book will help open your eyes to the unbelievable things some people manage to overcome.
The Reichmanns: Family, Faith, Fortune, and the Empire of Olympia & York by Anthony Bianco (Amazon). The Reichmanns were devoutly religious and incredibly secretive. This book chronicles their journey from Europe to Canada, and from poverty to developing massive real estate projects that made them one of the ten richest families in the world.
Psycho-Cybernetics: A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life by Maxwell Maltz (Amazon). The greatest self-help book in the world. Dr. Maxwell Maltz was a plastic surgeon turned self-help author. He saw that plastic surgery didn’t only need to change one body it needed to be a holistic change of the self. Maltz popularized the term “Self-Image”.
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey (Amazon). This book is a collection of the daily routines of great artists. Understanding the widely varying routines of the most successful creative people in the world is a privilege. This book is great, I highly recommend it – especially to creative people.
The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson (Amazon). What do people spend most of their waking life doing? Working; exchanging time for money, it would benefit these people to understand money better. Niall Ferguson is the greatest contemporary historian.
Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Atler (Amazon). Technology misuse is one of my favorite topics to write about. Adam Atler’s writing is incredibly well researched, and frankly terrifying. Technology misuse is the greatest issue of our time.
10 Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier (Amazon). Jaron Lanier is one of the founding fathers of virtual reality and a computer philosophy writer. He is warning us about the dangers of technology and social media. His message is not one to ignore.
Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson (Amazon). Emerson has penned one of the greatest essays in American literary history. He encourages his readers to follow their individual will and become self-reliant instead of conforming to society. This is key reading for anyone who wants to be a true individual.
The Gospel of Wealth by Andrew Carnegie (Amazon). This essay touches on a contemporary issue of wealth inequality and how rich people can improve the world through philanthropy. Carnegie has a truly unique view of charity. He believes in “survival of the fittest” and was the greatest philanthropist ever.
The Hero with a Thousand Face by Joseph Campbell (Amazon). Joseph Campbell brought mythological ideas to millions of Americans with his show on PBS. In The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Campbell explains the archetypal hero myth and its existence in every culture.
Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin (Amazon). This book is all about individual responsibility. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin were navy seals in the Iraq war. They teach the reader about the benefits of owning everything in your life.
The Oligarchs: Wealth And Power In The New Russia by David E. Hoffman (Amazon). Hoffman lays the groundwork for understanding the modern Russia. The transition from communism to capitalism led to a massive wealth transfer and the growth of a new class of wealthy Russians.
Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Amazon). Taleb is a very polarizing figure but he knows a lot about risk. Something is antifragile if it gains from disorder. Antifragility is one step past robust. Most people don’t think about bad things that can happen, and how to properly prepare for them. Reading this book will help.
McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld by Misha Glenny (Amazon). I absolutely love learning about organized crime. Most tv shows and movies about crime are trash, however many books about it are brilliant. McMafia is a fascinating insight into the potentiality of human beings. This is the best book on the global crime industry.
One Soldier’s War in Chechnya by Arkady Babchenko (Amazon). This is the most vivid war book I have ever encountered. The most enthralling thing about this book is that it is only 20 years old. The war in Chechnya is what led Putin to gaining public opinion and solidified his power in Russia.
Faust (Part One) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Amazon). Goethe is one of the greatest men in history, a true artist. His rendition of the archetypal store of the legend of Faust. A learned man who is deeply dissatisfied with life. He brokers a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasure.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (Amazon). This is a deeply philosophical novel and one of my favorites, I wish I could read it again for the first time. Kundera’s magical writing tells the story of a man who is torn between his love for his wife and mistresses.
Love In The Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Amazon). Another great novel about love. Originally written in Spanish, by the Nobel prize winning Garcia Marquez. Marquez is the greatest author I have ever read at weaving a story through different times and locations. His use of imagery is second to none.
Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Amazon). A deeply allegorical tale about the failures of communism and the soviet state. Solzhenitsyn is best known for chronicling his life in the Gulag, the forced labor camp in the Soviet Union. This novel is about the “cancerous” Soviet police state.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Amazon). This is the book to read if you want to know what it was like to live a day in the Soviet Gulag. Solzhenitsyn vividly describes both the struggle of life in the labor camp as well as the boredom, and repetition.
The Death of Ivan Illyich by Leo Tolstoy (Amazon). Ivan Illyich is a careerist who never gives a thought to his own mortality. Like most Russian authors, this work is profoundly deep, both psychologically and philosophically. This is a must read, and should also be reread once every five years.
Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse (Amazon). This was the first book by Herman Hesse I had ever read. It was so good I went to the library after I finished it to get another novel by Hesse. This novel juxtaposes two medieval monks that proceed on different paths; one is a firmly religious ascetic monk, the other a romantic youth.
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. (Amazon). This is the best science fiction/fantasy novel I have ever read. It is a truly unique piece of writing, so I don’t want to create any spoilers.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Amazon). This is the second Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel I have included on this list and one of five books I have read by him. Written in a magical realist style, it tells the multi-generational story of a family in a fictional Colombian town.
Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov (Amazon). This book is an absurdist parable about the Russian Revolution. A Russian professor puts the testicles and pituitary gland of a dead man into a stray dog. Enough said. Writing this description is making me want to read it again.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Amazon). The one book I recommend everyone read at least once in their life. This is probably the book that has influenced my thinking more than any other.
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (Amazon). I read Robinson Crusoe as a child, as well as again during a period of hardship. The novel is about a man who gets shipwrecked in the Americas. Defoe is a master of details, and if you have a good imagination this book can blow you away.
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (Amazon). The Master and Margarita is a satirical novel about a devil visiting the atheistic Soviet Union. It is a supernatiural novel, and manages to blend dark comedy and christian philosophy. My favorite Russian novel.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (Amazon). This is a classic novel and one of a kind. It is an absurdist, hilarious war novel.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (Amazon). This novel by Anthony Burgess is lesser known than the subsequent film version but it is definitely not inferior.
Kolyma Tales by Varlam Shalamov (Amazon). This is a very dark look into the life in the Soviet gulag. Kolyma was a gold mining labor camp in northeast Siberia. It was almost an inevitable death sentence to be sent there. This collection of stories changed me as a person.
The Collected Tales by Nikolai Gogol (Amazon). The Nose and The Overcoat were my favorite. These short stories are so brilliant you will be wishing they were full length novels. “We all came from Gogol’s overcoat.” Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka (Amazon). When I think of short stories I immediately think of Franz Kafka. He writes short stories the way short stories are meant to be written. Kafka has such a unique writing style, it is brilliant. My favorite stories are The Hunger Artist and In The Penal Colony.
Check out my Book Calendar for the latest books I have read.