Books To Base Your Life on (The Reading List)

Like I’ve said before, I devour books. Over the last 2-3 years, Tucker’s Reading List served as a guide for my journey through literature. I thought I’d put together a list of my own–although this is a bit of crossover between the two. So here are the books that have greatly influenced me. I’d recommend starting with these and then following my chain-method, which is to read as your next book, one that is cited by the book you’re currently reading. And don’t forget to sign up for my Reading List Email which recommends a new set of life changing books each month.

Books to Base Your Life On

The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
I would call this the greatest book ever written. I’ve read it countless times and have a large passage that I printed out and posted above my desk to look at before I start each day. It is the definitive text on self-discipline, personal ethics, humility, self-actualization and strength. If you read it and aren’t profoundly changed by it, it’s probably because as Aurelius says “what doesn’t transmit light creates its own darkness.” You HAVE to read the Hay’s translation. If you end up loving Marcus, go get The Inner Citadel and Philosophy as a Way of Life by Pierre Hadot that studies the man (and men) behind the work.

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca
After Marcus Aurelius, this is one of my favorite books. While Marcus wrote mainly for himself, Seneca had no trouble advising and aiding others. In fact, that was his job–he was Nero’s tutor, tasked with reducing the terrible impulses of a terrible man. His advice on grief, on wealth, on power, on religion, and on life are some of the best ever written. Seneca’s letters are the best place to start, but the essays in On the Shortness of Life are excellent as well. You can draw a pretty straight line from Seneca to the essays of Montaigne (also read: How To Live, a biography of Montaigne) to the modern day writings of Nassim Nicholas Taleb (read: The Black Swan, Fooled By Randomness and The Bed of Procrustes).

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Frankl is one of the most profound modern thinkers on meaning and purpose. His contribution was to change the question from the vague philosophy of “What is the meaning of life?” to man being asked and forced to answer with his actions. He looks at how we find purpose by dedicating ourselves to a cause, learning to love and finding a meaning to our suffering. Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning is also extremely powerful.

48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
It is impossible to describe this book and do it justice. But if you plan on living life on your terms, climbing as high as you’d like to go, and avoid being controlled by others, then you need to read this book. If you want a simpler entry point, start with The 50th Law, which I was the researcher for.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
I’m amazed how many young people haven’t read this book. Truly life-changing. This is the classic of my generation; it is the book that defines our age and ultimately, how to find meaning in it. In terms of other transformative fiction, I cannot speak highly enough of What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg, The Moviegoer by Walker Percy and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.

War/Strategy Books
Rules for Radicals and Reveille for Radicals Saul D. Alinsky
This is the 48 Laws of Power written in more of an idealist, activist tone. Alinksy was the liaison for many civil rights, union and student causes in the late 50′s and 60′s. He teaches how to take implement your radical agenda without using radical tactics, how to disarm with words and media as opposed to arms and Utopian rhetoric.

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram
Boyd was probably the greatest post-WWII military strategist; he developed the F-15 and F-16, revolutionized ground tactics in war and covertly designed the US battle plans for the Gulf War. He shunned wealth, fame, and power all to accomplish what he felt needed to be accomplished. Coram captures his essence in a way that no other author has touched.

Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American by BH Liddell Hart
Along with Boyd, I think William T. Sherman is one of the greatest strategists who ever lived. He understood that the Civil War needed to be won spiritually as well as militarily and its the reason that when ended in 1865, it ended. Aside from that, this is a beautifully written book. I’ll let this passage speak for it:

“Among men who rise to fame and leadership two types are recognizable–those who are born with a belief in themselves and those in whom it is a slow growth dependent on actual achievement. To the men of the last type their own success is a constant surprise, and its fruits the more delicious, yet to be tested cautiously with a haunting sense of doubt whether it is not all a dream. In that doubt lies true modesty, not the sham of insincere self-depreciation but the modesty of “moderation,” in the Greek sense. It is poise, not pose.”

Of course you also need to read 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene, The Strategy Paradox by Raynor, Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Von Clausewitz’ On War

Evolutionary Psychology
The Moral Animal by Robert Wright
This is probably the definitive beginner text on evolutionary psychology and one of the easiest to get into. It’s a little depressing at first, realizing how ruthless many of our so called “good” feelings are. But then you realize that truth is better than ignorance, and you emerge seeing the world as it truly is for the first time. Also, a similar read is Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, which is more of a Q&A approach to the subject and has contemporary edge.

Sex on the Brain by Deborah Blum
One of the better books on evolutionary biology that focuses almost entirely on the biological and psychological differences between men and women. It’s written by a journalist (who cites scientists) so it’s easy to read if you’re not studied in the field. If you want to get into evolutionary psychology–which you totally should–this is a good starting point because it covers all the basics. Essentially, it discusses how men and women have benefited evolutionarily through different behaviors and strengths so it would only make sense that they would have developed into two very different entities.

Sperm Wars by Robin Baker
This book shatters any illusions you may have had about the sanctity of sex in our lives. The premise is that sexual intercourse is based on sperm competition–the majority of our sperm is designed to kill another man’s sperm, the penis is designed to remove semen from the seminal pool, women’s menstrual cycles are hidden to gain control. It also analyzes the causes of homosexuality, adultery and illegitimate children.

I would also recommend: The Game by Neil Strauss, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, The Evolution of Desire by David Buss, Unprotected: A Campus Psychiatrist Reveals How Political Correctness in Her Profession Endangers Every Student (if you’re in college) and the The Origins of Virtue by Matt Ridley which asserts that we had morality before religion, trade before capitalism and cooperation before government.

The Internet
Instead of giving descriptions for these, I’m just going to list titles. You need to read ALL of them. Especially the ones marked with an *, as they are the ones the illustrate the darker side of the web.

-Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations — Clay Shirky
-Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization* — John Robb
-The Pirates Dilemma–Matt Mason
-You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto* — Jaron Lanier
-The New New Thing–Michael Lewis
-The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom* — Evgeny Morozov
-Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age–Paul Graham (or you can read his essays here)
-Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything–Don Tapscott
-The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source–Eric S Raymond

Health (Mental and Physical)
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer / The 4 Hour Body by Tim Ferriss
It was the combination of these two books that changed how I thought about health and diet. From Foer, I faced what I’d long put off examining: where my meat comes from and why. From Tim, I examined what changes the body responds to and why. Combining their wisdom, I switched to a combination of the paleo and slow carb diet, mixed with heavy but varied exercise (explained further in this post I did on Tim’s site). I’m now in the best shape of my life and I feel comfortable and confident in the ethics behind what I eat.

This is a somewhat weird category but I also like Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, Facing Codependence by Pia Mellody, and The Mirror Effect by Dr. Drew.

Biographies
I’ve always been a big biography/memoir fan, so I thought I’d throw together a few that influenced me.

- My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, two of the most inspiring men of the last 150 years. (also in this vein, My Life and Battles by Jack Johnson)
- The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. Dr. Drew recommended this book to me, it is spectacular. He’s my favorite president.
- Wouldn’t it Be Nice by Brian Wilson. I used this book to write a big research paper a few years back. He defined how I understood the 1950′s and 1960′s in America.
-The memoirs of the 1920′s journalist and addict William Seabrook, Asylum: An Alcoholic Takes the Cure and No Hiding Place are indescribably good. So good that a dying Fitzgerald wrote of how he related to them in his book The Crack Up.

To get monthly recommendations of books like these, join the 5,000 other subscribers and sign up using the form below.

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85 responses to Books To Base Your Life on (The Reading List)

  1. Hey Ryan, just letting you know that your Tucker Reading List link no longer works.

  2. Outstanding list of books, Ryan – several of them are also on my list of “classics” (including Man’s Search for Meaning, and The New New Thing), and I will certainly pick up the rest, gradually.

    It’s refreshing to come across someone who seems a “kindred spirit”.

    Moe

  3. Great Reading list, going ot go out and get a few. Funny thing is that I have a few in my libarey.

  4. I too have been working my way through Tucker’s reading list. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is unreal. Will be sure to add your books to my list :)

  5. Woooooo….thanks for that compilation! I recommend ‘Mastery’ by George Leonard, if you haven’t read it already.

  6. Cannot wait to dive into these.

  7. How often do you update this, or your quotes?

  8. I’ve had an Aurelius book on my shelf for 8 years that I want to love, but the words just don’t flow for me. You helped me realize today that it’s probably the translation. I need a different translation! Thanks for the epiphany.

  9. Ryan, great list, thanks. I’d recommend Shogun, not only for the story but to witness strategy at the highest level.

  10. Ryan

    Thanks for the list. Quite a few I haven’t read. For me the best book I read in the last 2 years was Tom Peters’ The Little Big Things. It really makes you think about why we make such hard work of business. Its theme: Soft is Hard, Hard is Soft.

    Julian

  11. The most important book I’ve ever read so far is Power vs. Force by David R. Hawkins.
    His third book in that particular trilogy, I, moved me forward in life.

  12. “If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than because he was he, and I was I.” ~ Michel de Montaigne

  13. Thanks for the list, I’m trying to break out of my academic “indoctrination” and try to enjoy books for what they are again.

    I was wondering what your “ideal” reading setup was. What time of the day do you usually read, and under what kind of settings (quiet room, coffee shop with headphones, etc.)? Also, do you strictly stick with visual reading or do you try to mix in audiobooks as well (I’ve found that my eyes/brain get weary after trying to read for extended periods like >1 hour, probably means I need to take more breaks)?

    Thanks for the list.

    • Bo,

      Experiment with different places/positions/etc until you find what works for you for the amount of time you have dedicated to read.

      This is the best way to learn how to do anything. I personally find that a relatively quiet space is ideal, but adaptation is key, especially when time is limited.

      –Jacob

  14. The Mirror Effect by Dr. Drew
    - link is broken.

    Also noticed the Long Tail is gone… interesting.

  15. “Letters to a Young Contrarian” is a primer for this list, promise. Can’t believe I haven’t suggested it before now. Everyone who reads the rest of Ryan’s (well considered) list can discover and meditate on Hitchens on their own. But “Letters” is important to this theme, and politic independent.

  16. Stimulating list, if rather male-centric. :) Not dogging on any of these selections/themes, just suggesting you might be surprised at what you could learn by expanding your circle of consideration in this most fundamental of ways. (But only do so if you’re seriously willing to listen.)

    Anyway, thanks for your tips for reading challenging works as published in Forbes and elsewhere. Very helpful. I plan to share.

  17. Bro…you are the 21st century Goebbels…pure compliment! Love the book and as a 50 year old man can differently learn new tricks for a young whipper snapper. I have so many questions to ask you. I live in Tampa and want to start a web site geared towards seniors and their issues…..Please any suggestions would be very appreciated…..GR8 Book!

  18. Ryan,
    I just found out about your new book release and just did a deep dive into learning about you and your gifting. So much to read and learn. Good job.

    You lost me though when I started reading your reading list. The Evolution section. You made a comment about it’s so good to be freed and finally know the truth about it all. I’m paraphrasing.

    I have a few high level degrees, dove very deep into science and evolution for my first 35 years of life and then, it was like the filters were off when I found out about the truth about the Bible and how if you study it, go to Bible Studies with other high intellect individuals you see how it’s teachings blow away so much that you think is true. I know being a Christian these days is worse than being a rapist in all media but I do have intellect and was on the other side first, and lived and partied and made a great living and did so much in life but when I was able to digest all I learned about evolution and science and math and Greek philosophy and more, and then really learned the teachings of the Bible, I found that so much of what people teach has it’s origins from the Bible. There is a reason you can read it 10 times and it mean so much more each time. No other book in the English speaking world comes close in my estimation.

    I’d love to see you go deep at the core of humanity.

    Answer me one question as well – the gurus can’t figure out how one cell split to be two. Scientists say that if you are a math buff, it would take trillions of years through natural selection for one complex amino acid to form – trillions, just for the first with all the combinations it takes for just the first most simple amino acid to form and then sustain.

    I believe that all things begin from intelligent design. Nothing you can create or do can begin without intelligent design. There is a designer out there. I’m not against evolution. It’s just unfinished science and there is a lot of fuzzy science surrounding it.

    • Mark,
      Been there done that, then read this. DARWIN’S DANGEROUS IDEA: EVOLUTION AND THE MEANINGS OF LIFE by Daniel C. Dennett.

  19. considering i have read 4 books out of the whole list you just churned out… it looks like I am destined to read the rest as well.

    Thanks.

  20. Just completed The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. Thanks for the recommendation. Well worth the time.

  21. “Meditations” is hands down my favorite book ever. I read it after my husband died and it change my outlook on life completely. I give it as gifts to people now, I love it.

  22. It seems like you know very much pertaining to this particular subject and this demonstrates throughout this amazing article, titled “RyanHoliday.
    net | Books To Base Your Life on (The Reading List)”.

    Thx -Aaron

  23. Have you read Charles Robinson’s new book “Punching the Sun” ? If not you should check it out. It’s really written to change lives.

  24. Ryan,
    I read _Sperm Wars_ based on this list.
    It is a fascinating monument to the power of rationalization rather than to the power of science.

    Please update this list to include _Sex at Dawn_ by
    Christopher Ryan, Ph.D. & Cacilda Jethá, M.D.
    http://www.sexatdawn.com/

    (Or better yet, get rid of the old EP texts and just include that one)

  25. That’s an interesting list of books, personally, I don’t read much books outside of encyclopedia’s and other research material. Though, from the things you’ve written, it appears as though there is much to learn about life from others. Learning from your own mistakes is a good lesson learnt, but learning from others mistakes, saves you the mishap.

  26. Hey Ryan,

    Great list – loved it. You may enjoy my newest book called The Wandering Leader.

    Keep up the great work!
    Dave

  27. Hey Ryan,

    awesome list, covering a lot of different aspects in life…
    Have you read the 7 habits of effective people by Stephen Covey yet? Worth the read for sure

    Also recommend Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan.

    Saludos!
    Justin

  28. Alihan Yildirim May 15, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    Hey Ryan,

    Which passage from meditations do you have above your desk!

  29. Excellent post. I was checking continuously this blog and I’m impressed!
    Extremely helpful info specially the last part :) I care for such info a lot.
    I was seeking this particular information for a very long time.
    Thank you and best of luck.

  30. Even i was influenced by the book called meditations. That was an awesome one which i would love to read often. Great collection of books and authors are mentioned above. Thanks for the innovative post. Keep doing.

  31. Terrific suggestions. You’ve accomplished so much in the world of marketing at such a young age.

    Do you have book selections/ recommendations that really had an positive impact and taught you how to market at a world class level (other than your own “Trust me I’m Lying” I haven’t seen definitive book recommendations on marketing).

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Keep up the good work.
    Cheers,
    —M

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    […] learn to code a website, sketch out a comic book, write a letter to the editor on a current issue, read an unfamiliar book, write your own book, start a journal, become an idea machine, etc. The list could stretch on […]

  39. How Regular Exercise Can Boost Creativity - February 6, 2014

    […] need help on the reading front, check out Ryan Holiday. He’ll show you how to read more. Tell you what to read. And show you how to keep track of what you […]

  40. The Startup Reading List: Must Read Books For Every Startup | Pablo Beauregard - March 2, 2014

    […] – I started reading hard stuff a few years ago. I read “better” stuff after getting exposed to Ryan Holiday’s list. The results are transformative: I’m better, kinder, […]

  41. What to Read Instead of the Eighth Buzzfeed Article | E and P - March 18, 2014

    […] Thankfully, quality curators exist to help us laypeople sort through the chaos. I just received Ryan Holiday’s monthly email full of great books to read this month. Gala Darling’s Carousel is another monthly compilation […]

  42. Expand Your World by Reading | LiveWellFeelGreatBlog - March 24, 2014

    […] Ryan Holiday’s recommended reads  […]

  43. A Hierarchy of Luxury | howtobefoxy - May 27, 2014

    […] Ryan Holiday […]

  44. countryofquinn - June 24, 2014

    […] a number of “Favorite Books” posts on other sites I enjoy (Farnam Street’s and Ryan Holiday’s lists are examples).  I like collecting lists of books, or records, or other experiences that […]

  45. Changing Perspective – Books Worth Reading | countryofquinn - June 24, 2014

    […] a number of “Favorite Books” posts on other sites I enjoy (Farnam Street’s and Ryan Holiday’s lists are examples).  I like collecting lists of books, or records, or other experiences that […]

  46. 5 Books You Should Read Immediately | The Good Life - August 6, 2014

    […] – Ryan Holiday recommends this as the best book ever written. You won’t be disappointed. Marcus Aurelias simply wrote about things he learned while living as […]

  47. Marcus Aurelius | AllFather - August 16, 2014

    […] was looking over Ryan Holiday’s Books to Base Your Life On and decided on reading the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. As it turns out, they agree with me. It […]

  48. 3 must read books for online marketers ► Start today - August 20, 2014

    […] from Amazon. Actually I got inspired by one of my inspirations Ryan Holiday who is a ferm reader, and his books savings is amazing! So I’ve chosen to make it a passion and I buy 5 books each month on amazon. I usually read one […]