Below you’ll find a narrowed down selection of some of the best books I’ve read–and each book’s #1 key takeaway, in one paragraph.
I’ve divided these 61+ books over the following categories:
- Investment philosophy
- Trends, Manias, and Great Hoaxes
- Cognitive Biases
- Philosophy, History, Neuroscience, and Evolutionary Psychology
- Self-Development & Success.
- Become “future proof”, Education, and Politics
- Entrepreneurship & You.Inc Think
- Management, System-building, and Leadership
This is the best newbie book on investing I’ve come across. And in case you’re wondering, “the most important thing” is knowing how to manage risk.
(Credit goes to Mikael Syding for letting me borrow and read his copy.)
Most people don’t perceive reality as probabilistic. Most people misinterpret results and mistake cause for effect. This leads to all manner of problems in popular culture and investing.
In everything you do–especially investing–you want to have a margin of safety to protect you from unforeseen problems. Buffett says to not cross a bridge that can only carry 5 ton if your truck weighs 4,9 tons. It’s not worth the risk. If that doesn’t help, here are two quotes to illustrate what margin of safety means:
Never forget the 6-foot-tall man who drowned crossing the stream that was 5 feet deep on average.
In engineering, people have a big margin of safety. But in the financial world, people don’t give a damn about safety. They let it balloon and balloon and balloon. It’s aided by false accounting.
More often than we would like to believe, unpredictable and unexpected things happen. A person I know was set to make LOTS of money on his airline business, then they launched it. . . on 9/11. That was a black swan incident.
5) Fools Die
This is the #2 best novel I’ve read (by the author of the Godfather). It’s basically the 4 books above, but put into an entertaining plot. You have to be patient and think ahead to become successful and lead a life of your own design. Fools–who live for the moment–die from their silly mistakes.
The crowd is rarely right when it comes to the timing of trends or cycles:
The human herd, like the Gadarene swine, loves to go stampeding off “together” after some real or imagined goal, and nearly always goes too far.
This book has a ton of practical tips for thinking MORE, thinking differently, and becoming a more creative thinker. Some of the best examples:
- So-and-so think X will happen, but what if the opposite happens?
- What other scenarios are possible?
- What don’t I know about [. . .] that I need to know?
7) Call me Ted
Extremely inspiring and actionable. Ted Turner is the MAN. This book has 100x examples of how it pays to be a contrarian both in thinking and as a long-term business strategy (vis-a-vis your rivals).
The best marketing/branding book I’ve read. Differentiation is tricky.
People love to delude themselves into thinking they’re different, unique, and special. But in 99% of the cases, they’re really not. Unfortunately, this is true in marketing and branding as well. The average person misunderstands (and sucks at) marketing and branding.
Trends, Manias, and Great Hoaxes
A bunch of historical examples of bubbles, mad hysteria, and irrational mass-movements. In all of these crowd-induced happenings–especially money-schemes–at least 90 % of the people lose. Only a minority of people profit from bubbles, and they typically profit from the stupidity of the other people; like in Ponzi schemes, multi-level marketing, and chain letters.
–This book will inevitably make you question what’s going on today. . .
Probably the best (introductory) book about history. Some key takeaways:
- Common mistakes to avoid (when reading history).
- Wealth distribution is a function of talent distribution, which is extremely unevenly distributed.
- Pros & cons with different forms of government.
Most people are brainwashed without knowing it. The best propaganda and PR is already baked into popular culture. Especially in the U.S.
Practical methods for creating public opinion (which is a must in a democracy). These methods are followed down to the last detail in election campaigns.
(These two books are a summary of Charles Munger’s biggest ideas)
Read Munger’s speech “Psychology of Misjudgment” to get a basic understanding of how cognitive biases (profoundly) influence society.
Currently the best book on cognitive biases and how to think rationally.
Almost all of Montaigne’s essays are about cognitive biases or other psychological effects. Read this book as a way to practice cognitive biases. Plus it’s fun, educational, and practical.
Aphorisms about how to create contrast, scarcity, and raise perceived value. Often this is done through the golden mean. Sometimes you can even obtain the dual path of greatness. Read this to practice cognitive biases too. Most of Gracian’s aphorisms are about psychological effects.
From the author of Narnia! Short and fun book about cognitive biases, coping mechanisms and fundamental needs–as rationalized by a Christian person. This book will help you identify and overcome many excuses.
Pragmatism and psychology for creating societal change. For badasses only. Good practice for cognitive biases and crowd psychology here too.
Good book, but overrated (in comparison to the books above). You’ll learn a bunch of cognitive biases and other mental shortcuts that you need to overcome to become smarter. Seeking Wisdom & PCA are superior.
Same as 18)–but easier to read, and contains more memorable trivia.
Philosophy, History, Neuroscience, and Evolutionary Psychology
It’s impossible to be a leftist after reading these two books.
The best novel I ever read. The fundamental mindset it takes to become successful and self-oriented. Especially the part about Gail Wynand is good.
This is a longer, less potent, version of Fountainhead. But it’s still great. Especially Francisco D’Anconia’s “money speech” and John Galt’s TV speech.
Get perspective on your life with the best book on Stoicism. Contains lots of practical exercises/mindsets for:
- Letting go / outcome-independence / action-taking.
- Appreciating life more.
- Dwelling on the shortness of life.
- Reflecting on life’s inherent meaninglessness.
Smart tips on all matters imaginable–from love to persuasion to letter writing. Lots of psychology and cognitive biases underlie these tips.
23) Seeking Wisdom
Read the introduction–(the first 30 pages)–for the best explanation I’ve come across regarding evolutionary theory, and how you need to change your thinking in accordance. Must-read if you don’t understand evolution.
24) The Selfish Gene
The most famous book on evolutionary theory. Read after you read Seeking Wisdom. This book will probably inspire you to some pretty crazy thoughts. Forget EVERYTHING you were taught in school about equality, tabula rasa, and that B.S–because it’s not true.
A good mental model to have. Lots of things and phenomena in the world can be seen as an external manifestation of some inherent genetic drive.
We’re fundamentally mismatched for the modern world. This book explains why. It’s a pretty heavy read. Or you can just read my (much more practical) article on evolutionary mismatches.
Pattern recognition = Wisdom.
Only those who practice their craft, and start to lead a reflective life from an early age, become wise and retain their ‘crispness’ of mind. Most people only get dumber and/or less adaptive after age 30-40. Cicero had it right when he said that old age sucks for most, but that it is something to be enjoyed for those who have spent their youth in preparation for it.
Self-Development & Success
The bible(s) of self-development. You only need to read one or both of these books to learn the fundamentals. Other books in the genre are copies.
29) The Godfather
You probably saw the movie, but the book is even better. You are instilled with the basic knowledge and values required to become a MAN–an executor and leader. Encapsulated in an entertaining story, as with “Fools Die”.
The first half is really good, the second half is bad. Key takeaways:
- Perception is reality. Franklin’s squeaky wheelbarrel
- Work hard and become financially free early in life, so you can dedicate yourself to bigger things and leave a legacy.
- A lot of people cannot be trusted, avoid them.
Great book by Scott Adams, the author of Dilbert. It has a bunch of general tips for self-development, great for beginners:
- Combine multiple talents for a unique skill set (and differentiation)
- Learn cognitive biases ASAP.
- Learn accounting.
- If you’re attractive, talk less and let the halo effect work for you.
- Set up Google Alerts for useful stuff (like your name).
Super entertaining. It cements the importance of having a good creation story as a political leader/celebrity. If you read Fooled by Randomness, you’ll realize Churchill is a statistical anomaly. He got lucky a lot.
33) Made to Stick
This book contains–what I think is–the best framework for effective communication. If you want to learn how to write or speak better, start by reading this book and practicing the formula “SUCCES”
Become “future proof”, Education, and Politics
Why the job market will never look the same in the US–and probably in the rest of the world too. Short and great read. Like 60 pages. Recommended.
35) Average is Over
The follow-up to The Great Stagnation, with focus on automation and robotics–and how technological progress will affect the job market. The middle class is likely to be eliminated. (Average is over.) Here are 3 things Cowen believes will rise in value, given the technological progression:
- Quality land and natural resources.
- Intellectual property or good ideas about what should be produced.
- Quality labor with unique skills.
And to be blunt—while I know I can’t prove this—I wonder how much of the middle class consists of people in government or protected service-sector jobs who don’t actually produce nearly as much as their pay.
36) The Netocrats
Similar to Average is Over, but 15 years earlier, and much broader. The key takeaways from this book is that you want to diversify your wealth from just money to social network, authority, and credibility. You also want to do work that scales off the Internet. Mind-blowing book, a real paradigm-shifter.
The economy is based on production</span of value. What is deemed valuable is up to the consumer to decide. Contrary to popular belief, politicians do not “create” jobs, and printing money typically does not help the economy. It is more likely to result in the destruction of wealth (over the long-term).
38) Den Politiska Adeln
A very good book about Swedish politics, which is corrupted HUGELY by nepotism. This is horrible–and many incompetent people undeservedly exert power over their betters. Sweden must be changed, drastically.
39) Den Härskande Klassen
A newer book about the same topic as the book above. Goes into some more recent examples of the incompetencies of (mostly Swedish) politicians, and how most of them are leeching value. Again, this is absolutely horrible.
40) Det Sovande Folket (the Sleeping People)
Written a long time ago by the former Swedish Prime Minister when he was ca 30 years old. We’re headed for a future of extreme inequality (see Average is Over) where probably–tragically enough–the definition of creating value (see How an Economy Grows) may turn towards entertaining the vast masses of brainwashed consumtarians (see The Netocrats), to give them some vague purpose in life, and stop them from rebelling or killing each other.
41) Dumbing us Down
USA’s public education system (as most other countries) was constructed to produce obedient workers. Frederick the Great came up with public education, then Napoleon improved on his system, spread it to most of Europe, and then the U.S copied parts and pieces of it.
Critical thinking is dangerous for society, and therefore isn’t taught in school. It wasn’t–(and still isn’t)–in the interest of industrialists and politicians.
42 (+) Books about Napoleon
Learn about all the things that can happen when you let a genius (who spearheads meritocracy) govern.
Talleyrand was Napoleon’s #1 diplomat, and an early mentor in politics. He later “betrayed” Napoleon, when Napoleon was at his zenith. If he hadn’t done that, the world might be a very different (probably better) place today.
Despite being an asshole for betraying Napoleon, Talleyrand was a really smart and interesting guy. The author (who was an English politician of note) provides interesting input on the political decisions of Talleyrand and Napoleon. These were Napoleon’s two biggest mistakes:
- He let his casualties and costs in war determine diplomatic conditions.
- He got too megalomaniacal, and thought no one man could stop him.
44 (+) Books about and by Lee Kuan Yew
Learn MORE about what happens when you let a genius govern, and put a meritocratic system in place.
—The success of Singapore, as a country, is unprecedented in history!
Entrepreneurship & You.Inc Think
The best biography I’ve ever read. Fun fact: Rockefeller didn’t come up with the idea to create the Standard Oil Trust, his business partner Henry Flagler did!
This book holds SO many lessons for:
- Business & entrepreneurship.
- Contrarian thinking.
- Hard work and mindset.
- And lots of other stuff worth emulating!
I’m going to write a long summary of this book. Stay tuned.
Short business biography by the man who made McDonald’s big. I don’t like McDonalds, but Ray Kroc was a genuine badass.
The book is entertaining and shock-full of good tips for business and entrepreneurship. Most people who become rich after age 40 do so due to reaching mastery in business. Kroc symbolically calls this process to “grind it out,” and to “build your monument in the name of capitalism“.
These two books were written by billionaire Felix Dennis, who founded Maxim Magazine.
The Narrow Road:
Inspired by Bacon’s pragmatic essays, Felix Dennis wrote a similar set of essays on one topic: Making money and building your business. If you want to succeed at this, you must stay on the narrow road–and not go astray.
How to Get Rich:
A longer–and biographical–version of The Narrow Road containing (mostly) the same advice. Read it if you liked TNR. Making money is a (mostly) meaningless game, but with very serious rules. Don’t get too caught up in it.
Key takeaways from these two books:
- The #1 difference between an employee and a successful entrepreneur is not necessarily skill or intelligence, but the ability to overcome fear.
- If you lose lots of sleep over taking risks you probably will not succeed.
- You are unlikely to get rich if you do not have ownership.
This is probably the best introductory book to entrepreneurship/business. It’s basically a summary of popular business books. Definitely read this if you’re a novice in these areas. It pinpoints all main differences in mindset and behavior between employees, entrepreneurs, and. . . well, total bum-ass losers.
A fun book with lots of good business and success tips baked into it. An easy read. Some key takeaways:
- Get a business partner with a complementary skill set.
- Dress well to sell well. Belfort had custom-made suits for employees.
- Befriend potential future rivals/enemies to minimize risk.
- Study the history of your industry. Learn from success and failure.
- Keep people dependent on you.
- Don’t do drugs.
50) Double Double
Super actionable book on how to grow your biz. If you’re in a managerial position or you have a decent-sized business, read it.
51) 4-Hour Work Week
It hammers in the importance of thinking 80/20 in all things, ignoring the shit that doesn’t matter, and delegating the things you suck at.
Management, System-building, and Leadership
52) Work the System
An introductory book to systems-thinking in business. Your job as the manager/founder is to build systems and improve on them until they run themselves, not to micromanage stuff. A toilet roll is a system.
53) Ray Dalio–Bridgewater Principles (free)
Second part of the book contains 200+ practical tips for company culture, decision-making, and getting stuff done. Highly recommended. A must-read for anyone in managerial position (and anyone who wants to be successful).
54) PCA (again)
How to govern an organization. How to avoid bad behavior. How to implement the right policies and systems. And all manner of other business things. Super good book, that’s why I recommended it again!
Lots of great advice on business analysis and governance.
56) Cable Cowboy
John Malone took TCI to a monopolistic position in the cable industry. You’ll learn how he did it, and lots of trivia. Includes cool stuff like:
- The history of the cable industry.
- Setting the right incentives.
- Building strategic alliances in business.
- If you’re a consultant, the fastest way to getting promoted is by collecting other people’s ideas and presenting them as your own to the management.
57) The Prince
Smart and timeless tips for achieving, increasing, and keeping power and influence. Highly relevant for anyone in a leadership position, or serious about business. Also contains lots of interesting historical trivia. E.G:
- Fear is (a lot) stronger than love.
- Don’t use henchmen (consultants) to build your kingdom (business).
- A good Prince gets good advice.
Like Kroc’s book about McDonald’s, it is entertaining and has many actionable tips for business. One of the key takeaways is the importance of not taking on bigger opponents than you can defeat–A.K.A: not competing where you can’t win–and thereby ensuring steady, uninterrupted growth.
Interesting (historical) trivia and tips for business managers and entrepreneurs:
- When speaking, use metaphors your listeners can identify with. When Jesus preached to fishermen about wealth, he gave them the example of teaching a man how to fish, instead of giving him a fish for the day.
- You’re probably overestimating your efficiency. Try doing time-logging (and journaling how you spend time) for a week.
- Drucker predicts that the trend of big cities, big corporations, and big offices will not hold. He thought the Internet and information-technology would change it, and we’re living through this now.
Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.
Jack Welch is one of the most successful CEOs of our time and he wrote this book for maximum impact: No B.S, only actionable tips for management, recruitment, and creation of policy in corporations, given in checklist fashion. Recommended for managers and entrepreneurs. Includes tips such as:
- Reward the best and fire the rest (almost). 20% of employees are stars, 70 % are in the middle, 10 % are underperfomers. Never defend underperformers–they are a plague to the company.
- What to look for in hiring (of both employees and managers).
- It’s the leader’s job to get collective buy-in at every level of the organization. This is very hard to do in a big company, and that’s why great managers probably do deserve their paychecks and bonuses.
As a founder, your #1 job–(other than systems-building and setting incentives)–is to identify, attract, recruit, and develop talent. Especially in industries where the difference (in productivity) between an “A player” and a”B player” is LARGE–like in IT and programming. According to Steve Jobs and Paul Graham, the difference between the best programmers and the average programmers can be a factor ranging from 25x-100x! Compare that to a taxi driver or a cleaner, where the difference between best and worst might be 2-3x. Hence, recruitment is less important in those industries, and employees are more easily replaced.
Another important thing is that you maintain the right competence in your company, and take protective measures against its eradication. Jobs thought the reason Apple would die (after he was kicked out) was because they’d lost their best “product people” (as a result of promoting their sales and marketing people). He was probably right.
What to do next:
Read at least 5 of these books over the next few months.
Top 5 from list:
- Munger’s Poor Charlie’s Almanac
- Peter Bevelin’s Seeking Wisdom
- Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater Principles (free)
- Will Durant’s Lessons from History
- Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations
#6: My book – Breaking out of Homeostasis. It has been praised by the European hedge fund manager of the decade Mikael Syding, intermittent fasting originator Martin Berkhan, and finance billionaire Martin Sandquist.
#7: My tutorial – The Ultimate Commonplace System. This is how you learn how to learn a lot. Organizing your work, learning outside your area, etc etc, make your work add up over time into an ARCHIVE for the future.