As a guy that runs a self-improvement website, you might have guessed that I’ve read a ton of books on the subject- and you’d certainly be right. To that extent, I’ve compiled a list of the seven that I think are the best self-improvement books to start out with:
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
“Before success comes in any man’s life, he is sure to meet with much temporary defeat, and, perhaps, some failure. When defeat overtakes a man, the easiest and most logical thing to do is to quit. That is exactly what the majority of men do. More than five hundred of the most successful men this country has ever known told the author their greatest success came just one step beyond the point at which defeat had overtaken them.”
This book is a great place to start- it’s a quick read and it covers a variety of excellent topics regarding getting one’s mind right and the importance of doing so in regards to success. The book covers a 13 part “Philosophy of Success,” which includes such sections as “persistence,” “the subconscious mind,” and (my personal favorite) “the Power of MasterMind.”
You can’t afford to miss this book.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
“Personally I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish and said: “Wouldn’t you like to have that?”
Why not use the same common sense when fishing for people?”
When I was in high school, I was probably the most antisocial person you could imagine. I had a small group of close friends (who I still keep in good touch with,) but that was about it. After school, I realized that I wasn’t going to get anywhere if I didn’t become good with people- and this is the book (well, the first book) that helped me do it. In it, Dale Carnegie provides the finest and most foolproof guide to dealing with people (especially uncooperative ones) ever put to paper. Everyone should read this- especially if you’re in sales or customer service.
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
“Few are born bold. Even Napoleon had to cultivate the habit on the battlefield, where he knew it was a matter of life and death. In social settings he was awkward and timid, but he overcame this and practice boldness in every part of his life because he saw its tremendous power, how it could literally enlarge a man (even one who, like Napoleon, was in fact conspicuously small.)”
Next to the Anarchist Cookbook, this is probably the most dangerous book ever written, although for different reasons. Every person I have shown this book to (including myself) goes through a period of extreme suspicion and alienation from others- that’s how much this book shakes up your perspective. If you’re not willing to question the motives of everyone you’ve ever met, do not read this book. However, if you want to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself against narcissists, psychopaths, and politicians, this is required reading. You’ve been warned.
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
On a much lighter note, The Last Lecture is a book about a professor diagnosed with terminal cancer who is asked to give his final lecture. The topic? “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” Throughout the book, which was written primarily to teach his children all the things he wouldn’t be able to, he discusses what he’s learned from life and what wisdom he has to impart to his audience. The book is truly touching- and surprisingly motivational.
Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Alborn
“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
Another book about a dying man, Tuesdays is about a sports writer who has lost himself in his life and ends up reconnecting with his old professor, Morrie, who has ALS and is deteriorating. They meet weekly and discuss life, love, and the important things we take for granted. Along the way, Morrie teaches Mitch how to have dignity even in the face of death. This is probably the saddest book I’ve ever read- not for the sake of Morrie dying, but for how much more alive he manages to be than the average person.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it”
Victor Frankl originally started writing what would become this book before he was sent into the concentration camps of the Holocaust. They destroyed his manuscript, and he managed to write on scraps of paper and hide them during his time there. He expanded the book to cover the horrors and the triumphs of death and survival that he witnessed, and thus, we have Man’s Search for Meaning. This is probably the greatest book about persistence ever written, and I promise you, whatever suffering you have experienced pales in comparison to what you’ll read about in this book. This is a great read to put things in perspective.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
“But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.”
This is probably the most involved read on the list, due to length and the complexity of what Pirsig discusses, but absolutely important if you’re of a philosophical bent. This book is expansive, covering the author’s life, his relationship with his son and others, and his epistemology of ‘quality,’ all set against a motorcycle trip across the country. Pirsig manages to take totally abstract concepts (like epistemology, for starters) and make them not only comprehensible but relatable in a way that most philosophers never manage. Plus, you’ll learn a bit about motorcycles along the way.
I hope you all enjoy these few books! If you have any books you think I should mention, let me know and comment or message MasterSelf directly!
Until next time!