My Essential Library

This page features books that I return to over and over again in my life for different reasons. Read this article on the essential library for more info.

The Art of War – Sun Tzu

Read this book when I was about 12 or 13, and immediately fell in love with it. Can’t say I completely understood its principles at the time, but something in the book stuck with me. About once or twice a year, I return to this book for some elucidation on tackling problems and crises in my life.

All of Robert Greene’s Books

Don’t know why, but I love all of Robert Greene’s books (The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, The 33 Strategies of WarThe 50th Lawand Mastery). I love exploring the dark side of human nature and social interactions – the parts of us that we try to hide. For me, humans are more primates than angels, and Greene’s books explore this idea so well.

How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

Read this book in high school and have stuck with it ever since. This book showed me that you do not need to be good-looking, rich, or popular to get along with and influence others. The basic principle behind the book can be summarized in one line: Show genuine interest in other people – in their ideas, in how they see themselves, in their growth – and you hold the power.

Strategic Communication: The Art of Making Your Ideas Their Ideas – Burton Kaplan

Bought this book at a yard sale for $0.50 – one of the cheapest and best investments of my life. This book changed my thinking on writing and communication in general. Basic premise is that communication is a matter of satisfying the needs of both the communicator and the audience. The trick is identifying those needs and crafting your message in way that satisfies them. This book gives you a practical method for doing both.

Get Anyone to Do Anything – David Lieberman

As hokey as the title sounds, the author (a behavioral psychologist) is able to give very practical and counter-intuitive techniques for resolving common social situations and problems.

In Pursuit of Elegance – Matthew E. May

This book is the first one to get me interested in the concepts of minimalism and simplicity. It changed my whole thinking on innovation and ideation. The basic premise is that subtraction is often a much more powerful and elegant solution to difficult problems than we think.

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus – John Gray

The classic guide to relationships. I love this book not simply because it pushes readers to understand that men and women are different, but because it gives a practical framework for mitigating these differences. In essence the message is similar to Burton Kaplan’s in Strategic Communication: men and women prioritize different values and needs and through verbal and non-verbal communication they can help satisfy each other’s needs.

Seducing Strangers – Josh Weltman

I thought I wasn’t going to get too much from this book because its focus is on advertising – what some would consider an outdated medium for marketing. However, the psychological principles Weltman (creative director and consultant for the show Mad Men) explores will change how you think about not only why we buy, but how marketing works in the social media age.

Your marketing sucks. – Mark Stevens

A straightforward (you can see from the title) book on what marketing is and what it isn’t. In clear words, this book defined for me what the purpose of marketing is, how to build a marketing strategy, and how to know I’m doing it wrong. Basic premise: marketing is anything that adds to the valuation of your company. If advertising doesn’t add valuation to your company, it’s not marketing. This book defines marketing in strategic terms, and not simply tactically.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad – Robert Kiyosaki

I find myself returning to the principles in this book often to help me understand what wealth is and isn’t. For Kiyosaki, wealth is not the accumulation of money (which goes down in value every day), but the accumulation of assets, which continuously draw money into your hands. The primary focus for someone who wants to be wealthy, then, is to accumulate as many assets as possible.

The 4 Hour Chef – Tim Ferriss

I bought this book not to learn how to cook, but to learn how to learn. This book changed my thinking on how to learn anything quickly and efficiently, giving practical principles for doing this. For this reason, whenever I’m venturing into learning some new skill, I return to this book for guidance.

Lincoln on Leadership – Donald T. Phillips

Lincoln is probably my favorite leader throughout history. His shrewdness, his eloquence, and his ability to empathize are skills that I try to prioritize for myself. This book explores precisely those principles that made Lincoln such an effective leader during our nation’s worst time.

Twilight of the Idols & On the Genealogy of Morals – Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche is probably my favorite philosopher. There are few thinkers whose thinking I feel so in-sync with, and Nietzsche is one of them. These two books are treatises I return to very often. Twilight of the Idols explores a new kind of philosophical thinking that I find energetic and unexplored today. On the Genealogy of Morals introduces the concept of genealogy – the idea that concepts we take for granted (such as good vs. evil, conscience, and sacrifice) are the result of shifts in power and strategies between institutions and individuals throughout different periods of history.

The Portable Jung – Carl Jung

Carl Jung is probably my favorite psychologist. His concept of the unconscious, of archetypes, and of individuation, as well as his method for understanding these aspects, give readers the tools to empower themselves and discover their own creativity.

The Non-Designer’s Design Book – Robin Williams

What I find so incredibly useful in this book is that it simplifies design so that you understand not only how to create good design, but why bad design looks bad. Armed with these design principles, an amateur like me has a starting place and confidence to know that whatever he or she creates won’t look bad.

Cesar’s Way – Cesar Millan

Changed not only how I see dogs, but how I see life in general. Through your relationship with your pet, you can connect with a basic concept instinctively known by all living creatures: energy.