I used to loath self-help/popular psychology/self-improvement books. I guess the young slightly misanthropic me always thought I was gonna have my shit together all the time. Then came the mid-twenties and all, I mean all, that they entail. Let’s just say I was not spared and as many I was hit by so many epiphanies.

I was out of college, I hit the end mark of my educational path, and I was supposed to decide what I wanted to do with my life. There were so many issues I was suddenly aware of, that I felt like I needed to re-calibrate my choices.

It took a cold flush of realization of which I am not going to talk about right now, for me to realize I had to rebuild my system for making better choices. And when your ego gets bruised, suddenly your mind opens, and you’ll reach for any mean out there to help that shield get up and running again. Enter, personal development books.

Now, I read a lot of these books in the last year, and let me tell you, there’s a lot of garbage out there. However, there are also a lot of gems. What strikes me is that there is a lot of contradictory data. Which is OK I guess, different things will work for different people. I took reading these books almost as a challenge. I read only the best reviewed ones of course, I would google recommendations from people I admire, ask people to recommend me some etc. I’m still not through with my reading list, nor will I ever be probably, cause the genre is kind of addicting once you give it a chance.

But here are 6 books that are, as I just realized, actually not from the self-help/pop-psyche domain 😂, but will  nevertheless help you become a smarter and braver version of yourself, capable of making bold and well-informed choices in all areas of your life.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Courtesy of Harper

      This book is everything. It is one of those books you won’t be able to shut up about until all your friends and everyone you know read it too. It will take you on a thrilling ride through the entire history of our species, from how we came to be all the way to the modern capitalistic age. Sapiens is full of insights, and although it might not be the first of its kind, it is totally unique because it takes multi-disciplinary approach and successfully encompasses history, biology, economics, and philosophy leaving you a lot smarter after finishing the book. It touches on many controversial topics that shaped us a great deal, such as money, religion, the advent of agriculture, and rise of the nation state. This enlightening and somewhat provocative book will leave you flabbergasted, pondering on the ongoing world issues from a whole new perspective. Please read it.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Courtesy of Back Bay Books

This one’s a classic. It’s been a while since its publishing in 2008, but its ruminations and conclusions on success are still very up to date. In Outliers: The Story of Success, Gladwell delves into the factors that contribute to high levels of achievement. He argues that the usual narrative on success focusing on ambition and intelligence that has been spilled around for years is not very accurate, and that we should look into the broader picture to understand why some people thrive. Family, birth place, or even birth date is sometimes enough for society to hand you the right opportunities to propel you into success, or cut you out and confine you to Mediocre-land. In Outliers, Gladwell examines Canadian hockey league, how Bill Gates made it, why Beatles became the most successful band in history, New York law firms, and many others. It’s in this book the famous 10,000-hour rule was coined. Just go pick it up already.

 

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux

I remember seeing this book when it first came out in 2011 at the UWEC campus bookstore and I always wanted to read it, but there was always something else I would divert my attention to. I finally read this book last year, and although it made me feel like a sheep at times, I still loved it. The author of the book is Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize in Economics laureate. This book is sort of  a summary of his research career in psychology, decision making, and behavioral economics. It covers all three main topics of research that he’s most known for: cognitive biases, prospect theory, and happiness. The central motive in the book is the existence of two modes of thinking: System 1 which is fast, automatic, emotional, instinctive; and System 2 which is deliberate, slow, logical, infrequent, calculating. The book deals with cognitive biases associated with each mode of thinking. It’s a book that will make you question human judgment, and make you wary of your own mind.

 

Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Courtesy of Random House Trade Paperbacks

This book was proclaimed as one of the 75 Smartest Books of All Time by Fortune magazine. Fooled by Randomness is the first in Taleb’s four-part book series on uncertainty. Its main theme is fallibility of human knowledge. Taleb claims, that humans seem to neglect and even deny the existence of randomness. We tend to see causality when there’s none (e.g. like seeing elephants in the clouds without acknowledging random shapes of clouds that only appear to our eyes as elephants), and tend to view and treat the world as more explainable than it actually is. Similar to Thinking Fast and Slow, this book also deals with some other sorts of biases and shortcomings of the brain.

 

 

Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss

Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Well, the title is kind of self-explanatory. For those of you that have been living under the rock, Tim Ferriss is an American entrepreneur, public speaker, author, and runs his own podcast which I recommend you to check out right away. Tools of Titans is his latest book that came out in December, 2016. The book is a sort of compilation of tips and tactics from people who’ve made it, from sport icons, and celebs like Oprah, Jamie Foxx and Schwarzenegger, to black-market biochemists and legendary Special Operations commanders. Each interviewee is like a chapter on its own, so you can divide this book in as many readings as you want, each time a different person. I still haven’t read the whole thing, because it’s quite lengthy, but it already surpassed my expectations greatly.

 

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living the Good Life by Mark Manson

Courtesy of HarperOne

Mark Manson is one of my favorite bloggers, with whom I don’t always agree, but I just love reading his blog. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is written in his well known blunt honest style and it’s a book that’s basically a sort of a critique to the well established self-help industry. He’s very harsh on the empty culture of foolish positivity that rarely helps.  By using his own experiences, he defends his perspective that the meaning of life is in its struggles, and that being happy all the time is not just unsustainable, but it doesn’t exist. I think this is a great self-help book for people that despise self-help books.