Life changing books

All these books are potentially life changing, but they only work if you read them and then take action to put their lessons into effect in your own life.

You may think that many of these books have nothing to do with money…it may look that way at first glance, but don’t be fooled: the secrets to money and freedom are contained within. The books cover a wide variety of subjects. The one thing they have in common is that they all helped me to reframe challenges, think independently and solve life’s practical problems.  Together they provide an operating system for seeing the world and its opportunities in a rational and effective way.

Don’t be put off by any anti self-help prejudice you may have based on the titles. There is no get rich quick bullshit here.  I regularly re-read these books; they contain so much wisdom that I get something new every time.

The Millionaire Next Door (Stanley, Danko)

This book revealed that there are actually lots of rich / FI people around us.  Its just that we don’t notice because they are not showing off like needy children.  Forget trying to keep up with the Jones’ – those suckers on your street with the SUV and the big mortgage deserve your sympathy not your envy.  This is the classic book on the reality of how most millionaires make it.  A wonderful combination of hard factual data combined with insight into the mindset of those that accumulate wealth.

Manhood  (Steve Biddulph)

Step one is to realise when you have allowed yourself to become trapped in your own Prison Camp.  If you are a guy, this book might be the slap in the face you need.  Biddulph pulls no punches and is not intimidated by conventional wisdom.  Its interesting that despite (or because?) of having Asperger’s syndrome he can read people better than just about anyone on the planet. I met him in person and he is truly unique.  Female readers that want an equivalent should try On becoming Fearless by Arianna Huffington.

Raising Boys / Raising Girls (Steve Biddulph)

OK, so these are actually 2 different books: Raising Boys and Raising Girls. Having kids prompted me to rethink my priorities. And it was Raising Boys that made me realise that being a father means more than just showing up at conception and then paying the bills – I needed to be there more.  Whether we realise it or not, we provide a role model to our children that helps shape who they become.  Biddulph explains how this works and offers practical advice that is priceless.

The Intelligent Investor (Ben Graham)

Warren Buffet calls this “By far the best book on investing ever written”.  This book provided a framework for all my subsequent active investing – both asset allocation and stock selection. Dont let the slightly old world style put you off, this is as relevant today as it was when it was first written in 1949.  If value investing were a religion, this would be The Bible.

Winning the Losers Game (Charles Ellis)

The ultimate exposition of simple, low cost equity index investing written by a successful patrician investor who does not need your money.  This is the antidote to the bullshit of high fee financial salesman. Ellis is like the rich and successful uncle you wish you’d had.  This is the most calm and soothingly written investment book there is.  The book prompted me to use index trackers for a significant proportion of my portfolio and to up my equity asset allocation.

The New Evolution Diet (Arthur de Vany)

After you have read this, there is no need to be overweight.   This is not another faddy diet book. The benefits may vary between people but, boy, did this work for me.  As well as food, the book covers lifestyle, exercise and how to live a more natural life.    Originally published as The New Evolution Diet, it was retitled The de Vany diet in the UK.  Not only does it work, the book explains why it works with reference to evolution.  Most importantly, it showed me that conventional wisdom can sometimes be 100% wrong.

Status Anxiety (Alain de Botton)

Don’t be put off by the slightly high brow feel to this book. De Botton is erudite and litters the book with classical and literary references. But the content is powerful and high class common sense.  This will make you realise that the money concerns that you have in your head are more relative than absolute. In other words, they are about worries about comparison to others. These feelings are universal and timeless rather than specific to your situation. It suggests strategies by which you can cut yourself some slack here.

What Should I do With My Life? (Po Bronson)

Once you have realised that you are living in the Prison Camp, its time to read this book.  This is a collection of true stories about real people who asked the question and then made big, brave changes in their life.  Most of them did this with little or no financial security.  The Escape Artist was not brave enough to do this and so waited to get to FI before pulling the trigger.  But I admire those with more courage than me.   Inspiring.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey)

This book provides a guiding framework for how to think and act effectively in every aspect of your life – its as applicable to relationships as to work.   It teaches you to put your principles first and align your actions with these.  The title may sound a bit cheesy but this is the real deal. I wish I’d read this book in my early 20’s. Better late than never though.

The Magic of Thinking Big (David Schwartz)

If The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People provides the logic framework, this book provides the motivational turbo charger.  It has a recognisable tinge of the US in the 1950s about it and, probably as a result, is a little bit too consumerist in places but the motivational pyschology is timeless.  This book will challenge you to raise your sights and utilise optimism, but is always grounded in reality.

Fooled by Randomness (Nassim Taleb)

Don’t let the writing style put you off., this is a work of genius.  Yes, the author can seem cocky at times…but that’s mainly because he is smarter than you or I… and he’s Right.  The book is best known for explaining the role that randomness plays in investing…but it covers office politics, financial independence, why the media is mostly rubbish and much more.  Essential reading for investors but not an investing book per se.  This book introduced me to the phrase “fuck you” money.

The Black Swan (Nassim Taleb)

A book about the impact of large, unexpected events.  You should ignore most forward looking statements by bureaucrats, economists, brokers, bloggers and politicians because they do not know what is going to happen. Which makes it all the more impressive that Taleb predicted the 2008/9 credit crisis in this book. Yes, the book is a bit longer than it needed to be but there’s a lot of value in here.

Anti-fragile (Nassim Taleb)

In Anti-fragile, Taleb develops the ideas from Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan.  But this is a more useful book in some ways.  FBR and TBS are all about how to recognise and protect yourself from hidden risks.  In Anti-fragile, Taleb sets out how we can actually benefit from volatility and there are more practical applications.  Taleb explains why self-employed cabbies are more robust to recessions than middle income cubicle slaves, why you should be sceptical of doctors and how what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

Thinking fast and slow (Daniel Kahneman)

Not an easy read, this book summarises a life’s work by the guy that co-invented behavioural psychology and won the Nobel prize for doing so.  Kahneman proposes that we have 2 decision making systems. 1) an ancient hardwired reptile brain system for dealing rapidly and instinctively with threats and opportunities…this is how we feel fear and greed. 2) a more recently evolved human capacity for logical thought.  To get to FI, we need to use this second system a little more.

The Art of Thinking Clearly (Rolf Dobelli)

Easier to read and more practically focussed than Kahneman’s magnum opus Thinking Fast and Slow (above). This is like a simple guide how to apply the insights from the work of behavioural pyschologists such as Kahneman, Tversky in our everyday lives. For example, this is where I got the idea of purging news and other media shit from my life.  Dobelli identifies 99 cognitive errors that you will kick yourself for not having seen before.

The Selfish Gene (Richard Dawkins)

You can not really understand the human species, modern society or markets without first understanding evolution.  Everything we do has its basis in evolution, yet most people have no idea about it – they just think its something they covered in GCSE Biology to be ignored thereafter. But evolution explains our feelings and actions towards money, sex, security, hope, fear, ambition, happiness, altruism and so on…..all the important stuff.  After this, I recommend you read The Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller.

The Rational Optimist (Matt Ridley)

This book may persuade you that maybe, just maybe, we are not all doomed.  Ridley reminds us of human progress over the millennia with reference to the value created by trade, technology and the free exchange of ideas. Its an upbeat, optimistic companion to Jared Diamond’s excellent Guns, Germs and Steel. Ridley has a big picture perspective and a background in evolutionary biology and psychology (he’s an academic who also wrote The Red Queen, a leading book on evolution).

The Obstacle is the Way (Ryan Holiday)

An easy introduction to the ancient philosophy of stoicism. This is philosophy at its most practical. We all know that shit happens in everyone’s life. What defines us is how we think about challenges and how we react to them. Stoicism offers an operating system to ensure that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Holiday illustrates with reference to figures from throughout history including Marcus Aurelius – possibly the only actual Roman emperor that wrote a self help book (Meditations), that you can (and should) read today.

Bring Home the Revolution (Jonathan Friedland)

This is the only book about politics on the list.  It helped me stop looking at politics as a left vs. right Punch & Judy show. It is possible to combine freedom and capitalism with ethics, community spirit and environmentalism. Having the right framework matters. Because they got a clean slate on which to write their constitution, Americans were able to embed more checks and balances into the system.  Freedland argues that the American system, whilst not perfect, encourages a more vibrant democracy than the UK and we should not be scared to evolve closer to that model.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (Richard Carlson)

100 simple tips and tricks on how to re-orientate your thinking towards happiness, calm and optimism. Yes, it looks a bit self-helpy and a bit West Coast American but sometimes those dudes are Right and we need to pay attention. If you read it, you’ll probably think something like “this is all common sense, I could have written this and sold the 10 million+ copies“. But you didn’t.

The Road to Nab End (William Woodruff)

Do you remember the Monty Python Yorkshiremen sketch with the men boasting about how hard their childhoods were? They should read this and realise they had it easy. This is a life affirming true story about a working class childhood in a Lancashire mill town…and an ultimate escape to freedom and prosperity….continued in Beyond Nab End. Compared to doing what this guy did, I can assure you that getting to FI is a piece of cake.

Man’s search for meaning (Viktor E. Frankl)

Despite the title, this is not some poncey philosophy book; its raw, powerful and uplifting. Frankl was a Jewish psychologist imprisoned for three years in Auschwitz and 3 other Nazi concentration camps and this short book summarises what he learnt there.  Everyone has choices and the power to exercise them with dignity, however grim the circumstances. The secret is finding what is meaningful to you (a cause, a vocation, a passion). Like freedom and the path to financial independence perhaps?

Secrets of the Millionaire Mind (T. Harv Eker)

At first glance this book may look like another hokey American self help book (it’s written in that style).  But what sets it apart is the quality of the content. Eker understands the psychology of wealth building better than just about anyone else. Eker introduced me to the concept of the money blueprint that we develop in childhood. He then explains how to control and eventually rewire our brains to build wealth.

Your help needed! If you read any of these books, please leave a comment below to let your fellow FI-seekers have feedback on whether they helped you. Thanks!

26 comments

  1. Quite a few of these are on my list of favourites. Others I will be sure to check out (of the library that is). “The Millionaire Next Door” is what started it all for me. Thanks for sharing your list.

  2. F2P – No problem – these books are what worked for me but please do feel free to share any other books you think are worthy of highlighting to other readers via the comments section

    1. Happy to oblige. Here you go:

      How we make decisions & its impact on our happiness:
      – The Paradox of Choice
      – Predictably Irrational
      – Scarcity
      – Blink

      Stoicism (aka happiness and fulfillment is a matter of perspective):
      – A Guide To The Good Life

      How to value your time:
      – Your Money Or Your Life
      – The Overworked American

      Money & Investing:
      – The Richest Man In Babylon

      How to learn to go against the grain and focus on what truly matters, not on what society tells you to do and care about:
      – The Art of Non-Conformity
      – The News: An Owner’s Manual
      – An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth

      1. Thanks F2P, these books are a great addition to this page…readers take note!

  3. paullypips · · Reply

    I’ve just ordered number 2. Status Anxiety (Alain de Botton) for my Kindle. Many thanks for the suggestion.

  4. Currently reading fooled by randomness but wow… It looks like I have a lot of reading to do! Thanks for the suggestions!

  5. TheTurnaround · · Reply

    Hello T.E.A

    New reader of your blog here and loving it already. I especially love the writing style.

    I discovered Mr. Money Mustache a month ago and have since changed my whole perspective on life, fully believing I can retire with FI ahead of the standard 75 year old mark – albeit starting out at the ripe age of 28.

    I have since read all his blog, Monevator, the book Economics Explained recommended by MMM, and I’m currently working on Smarter Investing as per Monevator’s recommendation.

    I’m now going to read all of this blog.

    Question though, if I may…

    How intricate is the science or art to choosing buy and hold stocks?

    Reading through Smarter Investing, and knowing how MMM does it, I am almost certain I will arrive at index trackers only, and leave the individual picks to more economics savvy folk such as yourself.

    (Now I finally arrive at my point)

    If I wanted to read and gain a deeper insight into economics (there are still some terms and concepts that go over my head), are there any other books not on this list that will give me a deeper understanding? Economics Explained was enjoyable but felt like a primer.

    Time is of the essence as soon I will mostly be reading IT certification books in order to hopefully switch out my hotel duty manager mediocrity for an entry into the tech field to increase the all important earning power to combine with, and form the miracle triumvirate of, frugality and compound interest 😀

    Thanks for giving me another great blog to read!

    1. TheTurnaround

      You DO NOT need to read any more economics books at this point in your life. What you need is a Reader Case Study.

      The Escape Artist

  6. Thanks for the thought provoking list of books to consider. “Manhood” sounds like a must read. I imagine “Status Anxiety” to be similar in theme to “Affluenza” by Oliver James.

    One other book that I can recommend is “Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” by Susan Cain. Upon reading it, I am willing to bet that the majority of people that pursue FI are introverts on the basis of our “new brain” model of thinking that promotes thinking, planning and rationality ahead of emotions and instinct that dominate for extroverts. Susan argues that these qualities make us better equipped to delay gratification, one of the key tenets of the path to FI.

    Linked to this, introverts are also less “reward-sensitive” than extroverts. I interpret this as being more drawn to intimacy, authenticity and meaning rather than status and reward. Given that modern corporate life eschews many of the the values that drive introverts, it follows that we are the ones that dream of socking it to The Man, often very early in our careers.

    1. Sean – I think you are right about introverts / extroverts and the link to FI…thank you for the Quiet recommendation

  7. Stacey B. · · Reply

    Thanks for sharing this awesome list of recommendations with your readers 🙂 I have added quite a few of these to my “TBR” pile. I have a book that offers advice and helps both your career/business and personal life called “Life In Half a Second” by author Matthew Michalewicz (www.LifeinHalfaSecond.com <—you can download the first chapter for free on his website). It was recommended to me by a friend and although I went in a little skeptical, wow was I wrong. This book is a perfect example of what can be achieved by an author who is an expert at his subject and very passionate as well. He provides a fact based formula for achieving success not only in business but in life. It is not often that I come across a business book that also tackles self help too! Using real world examples and even science to relay the material, this book can really boost you into overdrive to achieve your goals and desires. I highly recommend it because it really can inspire anyone (students, CEOs, people who feel stuck in their jobs) check it out! Hopefully this will make it on a future list of yours

  8. I have to recommend a book I recently entitled “Mentor Me” by author Ken Poirot. Ken has worked in financial services for almost 20 years and his passion about the industry shines through his writing. I really liked how interactive the book was. There is a personality quiz, exercises and a journal so that you are learning and retaining information along the way. I am a much more hands on learner and found that this book and it’s message has stayed with me more than any other self help books I’ve read. This book has some really great insight into achieving your goals realistically and I find myself feeling much more motivated and prepared for the future after reading it. Its strategies can be applied to business or to everyday life and I really appreciate the effort and love that the author has put into this book. I hope you and your readers will check it out – (http://www.mentormegate.com/).

  9. Riese Jones · · Reply

    I read “Mentor Me” by Ken Poirot! Amazing book! One of all time favorites! Best self-help book I have read so far!

  10. A book that definitely deserves to be on this list is “Social Wealth” by author Jason Treu (http://beextraordinary.tv/). This book really spoke to me as I have always felt personal connections and relationships were the keys to success in all things. The author has gone above and beyond to educate and inform the reader with solid strategies to get them where they need in life. I love the way he gave me real world tools to put into action the plans outlined in his book. A great read that stresses the point that a personal transformation can be simple!

  11. I just finished reading The Black Swan. Definitely interesting and at times a compelling read, but Taleb seems to be working so hard to present himself as an iconoclast it was a bit off-putting. I couldn’t help noticing he seems to have immense disdain for the idea of investing money in the stock market. Have you taken this idea to heart with your own investments? Personally I’m intending to stick with my index tracking funds anyway, but I wonder if I’m being a fool. I don’t see any realistic alternative to equities or property, and if the global financial system does come crashing down then frankly there’s not much I can do to prepare myself for it beforehand anyway.

    1. Steve – I know exactly what you mean. Taleb has a cocky style that puts some people off. But that style point shouldn’t be allowed to obscure the quality of his ideas.

      Taleb is I think irritated by a lot of the comment associated with the stock market (predictions, false experts, lack of understanding of probabilities, behavioural biases, greed).

      I certainly do not let that put me off index tracking. Taleb would probably include some gold and some property in his portfolio. But you are right….if the entire capitalist system crashes down, then no portfolio will save us.

  12. Good list, I’ve read 13 of those and have had quite a few others on my to-read list.

    I couldn’t recommend Antifragile to anyone though. There were some interesting ideas in there, but I found it almost unreadable. It really needed some better writing and stricter editing.

  13. Austin Allegro · · Reply

    Hello there, I’ve been lurking for a while on this excellent site – so refreshing to finally see a British blog about financial independence.

    In 2011 I ‘downsized’ to part time work from home, so I’m not fully FI, but a lot of the same principles hold good.

    Here’s my list of books that ‘changed my life’. The good bit is they’re all free online.

    ‘The Quest of the Simple Life’ by William Dawson. Fascinating account of a clerk who gave up the hamster wheel of Victorian London and downsized to the country.

    ‘Walden’ by Henry David Thoreau, particularly the chapter ‘On Economy’. Well known book about the American writer in the 1840s who lived alone in a cabin in the woods in New England.

    ‘Thrift’ and ‘Self Help’ by Samuel Smiles – the father of self-help. These mid-Victorian books can be a bit hard going in places, but are well worth at least skimming through.

    ‘Cheerfulness as a Life Power’ by Orison Swett Marden. Mr Marden was the father of American self-help books. He was part of the New Thought positive thinking movement of the 19th century.

    A couple of novels changed my outlook as well – both by George Orwell. ‘Coming up for Air’, about a 1930s salesman who realises suburban life is a con, and decides to revisit the village of his youth, and ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ about an advertising executive who gives up a ‘good’ job to become a penniless poet.

    1. Thanks AA…please pay it forward and send the link to anyone who’d enjoy the site. Walden is currently on my book shelf awaiting reading….thanks for the book suggestions….I note a classical tilt to your taste

  14. Austin Allegro · · Reply

    Thanks, it’s not really a classical tilt, it’s just that they tend to be the free books!

    ‘Walden is good’, but it can be a bit hard going in places. The chapter on economy is the best one to read if you don’t have time for the rest. Apparently Thoreau wasn’t quite the wild-man he made himself out to be, and used to pop home to his mum’s quite regularly for baths and hot meals – but you can’t fault his philosophy.

    A more modern book (1960s) I’ve read is ‘Hovel in the Hills’ by Elizabeth West. She and her husband in the early 60s were able in two years or so, while working at middle-income jobs, to save up enough money to buy a farmhouse in Wales (imagine that nowadays!) to live a financially independent life based on frugality and odd-jobs.

  15. Some great suggestions here. I’ve read quite a few of them myself. One I’d suggest is The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman, which take a very amusing swipe at many of the self-help gurus while also being quite a serious investigation into the “happiness industry”. Fortunately for me, it turns out that being negative about the future is one good way to find contentment. Much as I admire Covey et al, their relentless positivity sometimes gets on my nerves!

  16. A world of my own by Robin Knox-Johnson, This one will probably be a bit like marmite to the PF scene.
    Man sets of on a race, to sail around the world solo nonstop (something which had never been done before) in the yacht he had, rather than the one he wanted.
    The enforced frugality and isolation, make it a fascinating read.
    Says a lot about preparing the best you can, and then just doing it.

  17. A few more to add to the list:
    1. Rich dad, poor dad by Robert Kiyosaki
    2, The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss (check out his Podcast as well. Some great guests)
    3. The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson
    4. The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin

    1. Another vote here for The Slight Edge! I’m working my way through a few different reading lists like this one, so far The Slight Edge is the only book I’ve gone back and re-read. Another I’d recommend on similar lines is The One Thing by Gary Keller.

  18. Sasha Cohen · · Reply

    I can’t wait to read some of the books on this list! I have a book to add. This is a great blog post. I have been struggling with personal issues for 10 years and have found reaching out online to seek the advice of others has helped me through the good and bad time. I have always had relationship issues and have started to follow the advice of Dr. Robi Ludwig. I saw her on a tv show once and I really appreciated her take on current psychological issues. She has written two books but my favorite book is with Your Best Age is Now I have read it and loved it! I highly recommend it to anyone out there struggling. Here is a link to her book:

  19. My life changing book on the health front was “Eat Bacon, Don’t Jog, Get Strong, Get Lean, No Bullshit” by Grant Peterson. It popped up in my amazon recommends … because I had read his previous book “Just Ride”. His reading list at the back contains some nuggets including “Convict Conditioning” by Paul Wade. All are excellent.

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