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January 18th, 2011

Build your own classroom with these 23 books

This post endeavours to help you learn more quickly– about any subject.

If you just want to see the list, see below, but before we start, try this thought experiment.

Let’s assume that you would be automatically successful at any project you took part in. You could make a startup into a billion-dollar company, become an Olympic athlete, or achieve enlightenment (assuming such a thing was possible). You aren’t guaranteed to be the best in the world at anything– just to do well.

Now, imagine that it wasn’t just you that could do this– some others would, too– and that you could succeed in each “category” only once. So you could only start one company, for example, or excel at one sport. You and all these other people would be a sort of Highlander-esque group that would go around, doing really great things. (Incidentally, I am writing this post in the Highlander Cafe in Singapore. Hello.) :)

I suspect a sort of competition would emerge, at a very high level, between people such as yourself, for top positions.

So here is the question. What order would you pick for your successes?

In other words, how would you choose what to be successful at first, and how would you prepare?

As it happens, I happen to have considered this for a very long time– and so have many other people– but not for the reasons you’d think.

One result of this thinking is the Hinduism’s ashramas, stages of life which every man must go through. Early stages prepare for later ones.

Another is education of the children of the very rich, where success is assumed, but needs to be optimized.

I personally considered this because I was trying to create the most awesome Dungeons and Dragons characters I could possibly make. Geeky I know– but true.

Wherever you get your reasons, thinking about life this way helps you ask certain questions, like “If physical capacities decrease– and mental abilities increase– with age, then what is the order I should do things in?”

Life is more complex than making D&D characters. People have different priorites and goals, so any system that is in place should be flexible enough to accomodate them. Also, the world itself changes, so your system should be adaptable to a changing technological and social environment.

I know this is maybe a bit convoluted. But here is my theory.

The most important things to have at the beginning of life are education, a wide network, and a bit of money. These three things facilitate all other endeavours– one provides understanding, another provides opportunity, and the third provides freedom to pursue that opportunity.

This implies that the first things life should be about is those 3 things. If you disagree, please say why in the comments, but I think they’re the fundamentals of any really successful life. But what comes next?

This is what I want to ask you.

What did you wish you knew earlier in life, and what do you think you need to know only later?

And finally, what books could teach you to obtain those things?

The result of this post could be nothing– or it could be a very comprehensive list of the best books to read on any subject (like a Personal MBA). So leave a comment with your suggestion, and I’ll add it below with a link to you.

Since I’ve read a lot, I’ll start.

The List

The best books I can think of to maximize income while minimizing work are Work the System and the 4-Hour Workweek.

For mental models of reality, I would say Poor Charlie’s Almanac and Seeking Wisdom as well as anything by Nassim Taleb (who is incidentally paleo and a student of Erwan le Corre like myself– expect to see some of that in his new book).

For meeting people, I am going to say something controversial and say Rules of the Game (there’s a story behind this), as well as Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone.

I could be wrong, but along the lines of “only book you’ll ever need” on marketing could be Purple Cow and the only career book might be Linchpin.

The only book on diet you ever need could be (maybe) Why We Get Fat.

The best book on relationships might be 5 Love Languages.

Joshua and Ricardo say the best book on people and relationships is How to Win Friends and Influence People.

A good lesson in humour is Breakfast of Champions, suggested by Jackson.

Ryan thinks the best book on influence is Influence (it is pretty great).

Mike and Ryan recommend The War of Art.

Monica suggests Amusing Ourselves to Death.

When I Say No, I Feel Guilty was recommended by Daan. I’ve read it, and it’s pretty great.

Patti and I both recommend Man’s Search For Meaning. This is one of my favourite books of all time, actually.

How to Think Strategically was recommended by Roland.

Please Understand Me was suggested by Jeremy.

Rick suggested Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars.

My friend Chris Guillebeau‘s book The Art of Non-Conformity was suggested by Peter.

Now, add yours below. I’ll update with your suggestion and a link to your blog.

* Filed by Julien at 11:17 am under book a week, strategy, systems

January 28th, 2010

Great books this month


Guys, I normally don’t do this kind of thing, but Escape From Cubicle Nation is amazing.

I just met Pam Slim this week. We were getting awards for our books at the 800 CEO READ awards and as a result, we ended up trading books. I just finished reading hers and it’s so great. You know I’m not impressed by anything (ever), so I don’t say this lightly.

Seriously, for anyone considering starting a business, the book is full of information, supremely useful, but also written in an very clever, personable style. I banged it out in 3 days– just finished today. I want to pass it to so many people I know but I only have one copy. Seriously, I almost wish that I had written this book myself.

So far this month I’d say this book and Dan Pink‘s Drive are my top reads. Go check that one out too.

Hope you guys are still on track with your reading a book a week! Remember, it’s never too late to start.

* Filed by Julien at 1:52 pm under book a week

December 31st, 2009

How To Read a Book a Week

Yep, I finally did it. I read over a book a week all of the past year.

More than that– I never fell behind or stopped. I was always ahead of schedule for the entire year. So now, this coming year, guess what? I’d like you to do the same. Here’s how.

Why in God’s Name You Would Want To Do This

It feels awesome. It gives you an amazing amount of ideas. It helps you think more thoroughly. It’s better than TV and even the internet. It makes you understand the world more. It is a building block towards a habit of completion. Did I mention it feels awesome?

… whatever, just do it already.

Why One a Week?

First of all, why so many, why not just “read more books?” I’d argue that setting a massive goal, something crazy like one a week, actually helps. To make a comparison, the body reacts strongly to large wounds, expending significant energy to heal them. Small wounds, it doesn’t think much of, which means they can sometimes take longer to heal. So setting a massive goal will make you take it seriously.

So, that’s first. Make your goal massive and unreasonable so that you freak out a little. :)

One Day at a Time

The average book I read was maybe 250-300 pages. Some were larger, some were smaller. I broke this down to 40 pages a day, which I read early on so I can get it over with. It’s an easy, manageable goal, which doesn’t seem nearly so daunting as 52 books in a year. This is critical to managing your emotional state, making it feel like it’s totally reasonable.

Make It a Routine and Stack It

I have a habit right now of getting up, showering, etc., and then going out for breakfast every morning, sitting at counter at the same restaurant, and drinking coffee until I’ve read my 40 pages.

Why do I do it like this? Because I know that I’m kind of weak-willed. I’m betting you can admit this about yourself too, and doing so will help you set everything into its proper place.

Oh, and a protip: Set it up early in the day, as early as possible. Like the Artist’s Way’s morning pages and Twyla Tharp’s exercise regimen (discussed here), it must occur early or we will put it off. This is the same with every habit– you must chain them together for them to work.

Use Every Moment

If you have a commute, use it. If you have a lunch break, use that. This is something I’m just figuring out, but the ability to whip out your book quickly and read 2 pages will help you out significantly, especially in getting ahead, which will be your biggest asset and give you a rewarding feeling. Further, getting ahead will help you take your time with the hard books that are really dense and worth taking time on.

It’s Ok To Give Up… Kind Of

If something sucks (or feels tough), it’s ok give up on it– for now. You can do this when you’re ahead of schedule and it won’t screw with you too badly, and then you can go back to that book every little while until you finish it.

I did this a number of times this year, which means the number of books I started was probably in the 60-65 range (I finished 54.)

It’s Ok To Cheat

Is your deadline closing on you, and you feel you may fall behind? Holy crap! Ok, it’s time to cheat. Choose a quick book and read it, something you may have read before, enjoy a lot, and can breeze through.

“This is cheating,” you may say. I would agree. But the short term cheating to help yourself succeed in the long run on this goal is more important than hard-headed idea that every book you read has to be frikkin War and Peace. It doesn’t. This is to enrich your life, not to make you feel like crap.

By the way, even small books can be incredible. This year, I read the following books that were small but awesome: The Dip, The Little Red Book of Selling, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die, Man’s Search For Meaning, Vagabonding, and Of the Dawn of Freedom.

Never Fall Behind

Never “owe yourself one” or deduct from the bank account, saying you’ll get back to it later. Your weekly deadline (the first is on January 7th) will help you stay on track, but falling behind may make you feel helpless and make you consider giving up. You have to control your emotional state from dropping to this level, where you feel it’s hopeless, etc., and you do that by always being ahead of schedule.

In Conclusion

Reading has made me a much better, more complete, and happier person. All the world’s wisdom is contained in books– most of it is not on the internet or known by people in your social group, so this can really help you expand, if you let it. So start today.

All the best in the coming year to you. :)

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* Filed by Julien at 1:41 pm under book a week

December 15th, 2009

My Holiday Book List

So I’ve read 52 books this year!

I’ve actually read a ton more, but the 52 were those I counted as fully read and over 150 pages or so. I was ahead of schedule all year, too. I’m pretty proud of having done that (but more on that later).

Today, since I’m shopping for books, I figured I’d give you guys some suggestions in case you’re looking for something for the holidays, either for yourself or a friend/family member. You can probably grab them on Amazon and have them shipped to you in time for Xmas! All these books are so awesome I’m sure anyone on your list would love them. :)

Oh, and you may notice that I didn’t put Amazon affiliate links in here, since it’s really not my thing, but if you felt the need to thank me for this or anything else I’ve written, including Trust Agents, feel free to subscribe to this RSS feed, that would be awesome. :)

Here’s the list! Let me know if you need more suggestions, I have loads.

Old Masters and Young Geniuses – This is a book about the two modes of creation in art, from sculpture to painting to film. This book is great for the person on your list who’s just starting up a new project (like my friend Jason in film school, say) because it destroys the myth that you need to be young in order to make your mark in something.

The Dip – This was a re-read, but I think the Dip is Seth Godin’s best book by far. It’s so simple and to the point, and it can help anyone in any situation. It’s also great for the holidays because it’s cheap and small. It’s a perfect little book that you can give anyone at any time for any reason.

Thank You and OK! – Read this while I was in Japan. It’s a travel book about a guy that spent a bunch of time as a Zen monk. It’s really hilarious, pretty thick, and easy + fun to read. It was my favourite book I read while I was out there for sure– it was so good that I was upset when I was finished because I knew my other books wouldn’t be as good. A++ would read again. ;)

Man’s Search For Meaning – “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Man’s Search For Meaning is in the top 3 of the most influential books on my own life. It’s about Viktor Frankl’s time in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany during WWII. It is not for the faint of heart. But if you read it, I promise you will not forget it.

The Architecture of Happiness / Status Anxiety – Both by Alain de Botton, one of my favourite authors. I plan on reading everything he’s ever written. He writes these amazing texts that you will learn a ton from, laugh about, and just generally be enriched by. For the lazy intellectual who doesn’t want to read 800 pages but wants to learn a lot anyway (ie, me). :)

Connected – The one social network book I’ll recommend, but only because I know you want one. If you’ve seen the presentations I do, Connected is the book I always refer to when I talk about you influencing your network to be thinner, happier, and more successful. It also has a great cover so when it’s unwrapped people will be like “cool.”

Vagabonding – Another re-read! I couldn’t help myself. I read this again while in Paris just last week. What a great book to help you get thinking about your dreams, the places you want to visit, and what your priorities are. You’ll love this book, I promise. Oh, and here’s an interview between Rolf Potts, the author, and Tim Ferriss.

* Filed by Julien at 3:51 pm under book a week

October 16th, 2009

I Love Books

It’s taken me a long time to figure it out, but I realize now that I adore reading.

For over 2 years now, I’ve been attempting to read a book every week. This year, for the first time, I’m going to succeed. I’m only now realizing what a tremendous impact a ton of reading has had on me over the past few years, and that I never want to go without this growth ever again.

It happened slowly. One day in early 2007, my girlfriend at the time offered it to me as a challenge. I started with an early Salman Rushdie book, then moved to The Search. I didn’t know what this was turning into, but I have a feeling now that it’s about developing a habit of completion.

The ability to compulsively finish whatever you started, all the time, whatever it happens to be, no matter its difficulty.

The way to do this is to look at the bigger picture. When you visualize having finished this book, or finished 52 books this year, you see your life from the future, reminiscing upon a completed goal. That helps you continue past any boredom you might be feeling now.

Eventually the reading itself, the larger goal of knowledge, becomes the real point. That takes time, but when you get there, and you realize how much all the books you’ve read have helped your critical thinking and developed your ideas, it becomes easy to make that decision to start every day by reading those 40 pages. This is likely the same when you look at weight you’ve lost by regularly working out or eating less, for example.

Then, as time goes on, this habit of completion can hopefully work itself into the rest of your life. Still working on that, but hey, we did finish a book, so I guess I’m part of the way there. :)

The other thing is that books contain pretty much all the knowledge and wisdom in the whole world– not just for today, but for all of history. It’s in an imperfect form right now, what with books being out of print and all the problems of limited distribution, etc., but over time, that’ll be solved. So I see books as direct conduits to the past, and the most reliable way that we have to receive important information from other people, living or dead.

When you think about it that way, why would you only ever restrict yourself to the knowledge of the people you happen to know? Even if you know a lot of people, you can grab a lot more out of life by reading a bunch of books. Give it a shot.

* Filed by Julien at 12:46 pm under book a week

May 23rd, 2009

Book-a-Week, Part Deux

Unbelievably, I am still reading a book a week, and have been doing so since January 1st of this year. I’ve been experimenting with this since 2007, so I’m really pleased to say that it’s still working for me.

Reading books regularly is the best thing I think you can do for yourself. You read on the web all the time but I’m betting this will be more fulfilling. Try it– here are some tips.

If you want to do this, the system is pretty simple: put it into your schedule, as early in the day as possible. Read a set number of pages per day (40-50 is a good rule of thumb) and you’ll see the books fly by. Sometimes you finish early, so you can get a bit of a head start on other weeks.

Instead of typing in all the books I read, though, here’s a picture of some of my favourites.*

* As I was taking this picture, I realized that half the books in my “completed” list are not in my bookcase. Strange. I don’t remember lending them to anyone.

* Filed by Julien at 12:37 pm under book a week

February 5th, 2009

Here we go again: Finishing 52 books in 2009

They say most people read a book a year. I read a book a week; or at least, I try to. Every year, I fail, and every January, I start again.

While long-time readers will know that I’ve been attempting this feat every year, you may not know that I shift the rules every time. I do this to help me keep up the habit, knowing that I’ll get better (and faster) at reading over time. Succeeding at this long-term is more important to me than succeeding in any given year.

In 2007, I said I would read a book a week. That meant start on day 1, and finish on day 7. In 2008, I phrased it as “finishing” a book a week instead. So I could shift books, as long as I finished one every seven days. Both years I made it about mid-way.

I kept reading after I had failed at both of these tests, but not a book a week. I’m noticing that the big problem was that I’d get bored with something half-way through, drop the book, and never pick it up again, which puts me behind schedule. Now, instead, I’m just switching over to something else, and reading 40-50 pages from that. I stay ahead of the deadline by reading shorter books when necessary (like The Dip, below) and take longer to read the denser ones.

I’m also a slow reader, so I keep up by doing a lot of reading over breakfast, usually 2 hours or so, at a place I go to every day. They’ve become used to me being “furniture,” and I like having a comfortable place where they’re not trying to usher me out. That helps too.

Anyway, I’m a week ahead of schedule. Here’s what I’ve read so far. Some sucked, some were great. You can probably figure out which are which, but feel free to ask. Hopefully I’ll make it the whole way this time. :)

* Filed by Julien at 9:29 pm under book a week

January 3rd, 2007

One book a week for 2007

This isn’t a new year’s resolution but, this year, I intend to read 52 books. I talk about it a bit on this week’s podcast, which will be coming out today. For now, though, I want to try and explain why I’ve decided to do this:

I’m have a feeling I’m becoming stupid.

Oh wow, that was easy.

What I really mean to say is, I think I’m spending too much time on the web and around its ideas. Subscribing to 300+ RSS feeds may be killing me. I love blogs, and I love podcasts, but in 2007 I want to experience real life again.

This doesn’t mean I’ll stop producing content. Quite the contrary, in fact. More than likely, I’ll produce more– there’ll just be less obsessive, consistent parsing of content. I suspect that checking my feeds a mere twice a day will not kill me, and will leave me time for much richer endeavours.

This week I’ll be reading Grimus, the first book by Salman Rushdie. Rushdie would later have a fatwa issued upon him by Ruhollah Khomeini because of his work, The Satanic Verses, the novel that made him famous. (I chose Grimus because it was shorter.)

I tried to pick something that was outside my normal sphere; all year I’ve been reading business and self-development books, while my understanding of culture and art has remained the same– possibly even shrunk. I don’t want to neglect this any further, so this is one way of dealing with the problem.

That said, I intend to blog about every book I read as I begin it. Hopefully you’ll like, or be interested by, my choices. If you are (or if you disagree with them), let me know.

* Filed by Julien at 2:10 pm under book a week