Last Updated: 5/19/22 | May 19th, 2022
I read many different kinds of books. It’s not all travel. Last month, I shared some of my recent favorite travel books. This month, I wanted to share the non-travel books that have had the most impact on my life and feel have made me a better person. These created paradigm shifts in my thinking. They just made me go “Ohh damn!”
They got me interested in new ideas, literature, personal development, and so much more.
If you’re looking to improve your life, change a habit, expand your mind, or just want something interesting to read, here are twelve of the most influential books in my life:
1. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey
One of the most famous books in the world, this book taught me habits to create a better lifestyle including planning out your week, sleeping more, being proactive in life, the importance of creating win-win situations, and the importance of continuous improvement. It articulated the small things I forget to do to make me a more organized and thoughtful person. If you haven’t read it, you really must! This book will help you become less mindless in your actions and more thoughtful overall.
2. The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
Why do we do what we do? Are we hard-wired to repeat habits, even when they are bad? How do we break them and form good ones? This bestselling book discusses how we form habits and gives specific strategies about how to break the bad ones and start good ones. It really made me think about the negative habits in my life, why I keep doing them, and how I can change that. Because of this book, I started sleeping at a more regular time, reading again, drinking less, and being more productive.
3. Titan, by Ron Chernow
The biography of J.D. Rockefeller and his rise to power is dense but worth every second. Rockefeller was a fascinating man – ruthless in business yet a devout Christian who founded some the biggest universities and health institutions the world has even seen. While I have no desire to be as ruthless as him, this biography was a good lesson in how frugality, slowness, and thoughtfulness can lead to success in life and business. His methodical thinking made me rethink how I made business decisions.
4. Losing My Virginity, by Richard Branson
Richard Branson’s autobiography was super interesting (this guy does a lot of insane things) and it inspired me to create my non-profit (FLYTE). I’d been thinking about it for years but reading how Branson just went for things he believed in and worked out the details later inspired me. It’s in stark contrast to Rockefeller, but Branson’s “why wait?” philosophy on starting projects makes a lot of sense. There’s never going to be a perfect time to start something so why wait?
5. How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
Dale Carnegie’s multi-decade old, but still relevant, book was instrumental in helping me shut my mouth. Ignoring the sensational title, this book ties heavily into what the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People says about listening to when people talk, not being a know it all, and empathizing with others as a way to connect and then influence them. As an introverted person (see Quiet below), this book helped me learn to talk to people in a way that made me better at handling social situations.
6. Quiet, by Susan Cain
I’m an introvert in an extroverted world. I would rather read books and sit by myself than be at a big party filled with strangers. I know that sounds weird since I travel all the time and meet people but when I’m with my friends, I get social anxiety about meeting strangers. This renowned book looks at why the world is so extroverted, how that affects us, and lessons for dealing with both introverts and extroverts. I saw myself in the author’s examples and her lessons on balancing your space helped me deal with my anxiety.
7. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith
Written by a management consultant, this book is a guide for executives to become better managers. However, it’s much more than that. It’s a book on how to listen, behave, and think better. Its premise is that if you want to jump up to the next station in life, you’ll need a different set of skills. Successful people interact well with others and this book talks about the small things, like looking at your phone during lunch or multitasking at a meeting, that send signals to people you’re not really there.
8. Mindless Eating, by Brian Wansink, Ph.D.
Every day we consume food but how aware are we when it comes to what we eat? This book illuminates the insidious ways society creeps in larger portions and mindless eating habits on us that make us gain weight and develop bad skills. This isn’t a book that’s going to just tell you to eat healthier, it shows all the ways society and commercials indoctrinate us to subconsciously eat more food, from growing plate sizes to bulk shopping to “super sizing it.” This book completely changed how I think about food.
9. The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene
Written by legendary writer Robert Greene, this book features 48 rules for living a masterful, powerful life. It features historical examples that reinforce the rules and what happens to those who break them. Slightly Machiavellian, I’ve found these “laws” helpful in dealing with my business, strangers, and situations where it is good to have the upper hand (like when you want to argue a bill with Comcast). This book made me think more strategically in my life.
10. Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser
When I was in college, a friend handed me this book and, after reading it, I became a vegetarian. Actually, I tried going organic but, in 2002, organic was even more expensive than it is now. This book opened up my eyes to the crap we put in food, the horrible conditions animals live in, and how poorly we treat food workers. Organic, locally grown, and sustainable are all buzzwords these days, and while people are definitely more conscious of what they eat, I still feel like we are too far removed from the farm.
11. The Ecology of Commerce, by Paul Hawken
When I was still working in a cubicle, I did a lot of volunteer work with the environmental organization, The Sierra Club. I wanted to meld my desire for success with my passion for the environment but I didn’t think the two were compatible until I read this seminal book on sustainable development. It opened my eyes to the possibility that you could create a business and be environmentally-friendly at the same. It was one of the most influential books I read in my 20s.
12. The ONE Thing, by Gary Keller
You can’t walk into any bookstore these days without seeing this book prominently displayed. Short a book for a flight, I finally picked it up – and devoured it. It was excellent, and a really quick and easy read. I loved how he framed everything around asking yourself what is the one thing you can do to make your life better – daily, weekly, yearly. He hits so many negative aspects of our lives spot on – multi-tasking, the psychology of switching, to the power of planning and systems.
13. The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande
While this book talks a lot about the systems hospitals and doctors used to reduce medical errors, there is a lot to be extrapolated. There’s power in checklists; they ensure nothing is missed and help you verify the work that has been done. He even quotes my old boss from when I was working in healthcare (who helped pioneer surgical team processes). Reading this book changed how I view procedures and how this website operates (my team now has procedure documents for everything we do).
14. Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
I first read this book when I was 14 years old. At the end of class, when we would get five minutes to chat to friends, I’d take out the unabridged version of this book instead and get lost in Hugo’s world. This book made me love reading and it turned me on to the power of the classics. From there it was on to Dumas, Dickens, Austen, and so many other 18th and 19th century writers. I’d blow through their tomes in school, captivated by their vivid imagery and detailed writing.
15. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
At the age of 36, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. In this beautifully written book, Kalanithi tells his story up until the end (his wife writes the post-script as he did not finish the book before his death). This powerful book (I dare you not to cry) ruminates on what makes life worth living in the face of death. What do you do when you know you don’t have much time left? This book will make you think profoundly about your life and what you prioritize.
16. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway is my favorite author of all time. Apparently, he was a huge jerk, but he wrote like few others and his writing always moves me. When I was in high school, I read this book and it made me want to be a writer. When I finished it, I said, “I want to write like that.” In fact, in tenth grade, I tried to write a novel that was very much like this book simply because I wanted to be like Hemingway. I kept that love of writing and a few years ago my dream of being an author came to fruition.
So there you have it. These books made me reshape my life – often in drastic ways – and I’ve never once regretted reading them. They are thought-provoking and I encourage you to read them, if not to at least to see a different perspective on things.
If you’d like to see some of the other books I’ve recommended (or are currently reading), check out this page I created that lists them all.
And, if you want future suggestions, sign up for my monthly book club:
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- SafetyWing (best for everyone)
- Insure My Trip (for those 70 and over)
- Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
Want to Travel for Free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation — all without any extra spending. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.
Need Help Finding Activities for Your Trip?
Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace where you can find cool walking tours, fun excursions, skip-the-line tickets, private guides, and more.
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.