In my previous post, I got a letter for my birthday from my high school AP English teacher from 20 years ago. The letter included and a list of 38 book recommendations in honor of my 38th birthday –which was so awesome of her!
In my reply letter, I sent her my top 38 book recommendations at age 38. Here is that list for your enjoyment. (It’s mostly entrepreneur, mindset, self-discover, self-empowerment, and parables.)
Danny Burbol’s Top 38 Books at Age 38
(!!) – Note: I’m going to use this symbol to mark books that I think *all* humans should read.
1. Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss (!!) (Fun-Fiction, Parable)
So simple yet so profound. We read a few excerpts from this at our wedding ceremony.
2. And More Dr Seuss! (Fun-Fiction, Parable)
- The Butter Battle Book (!!), so simple yet so profound. A fear-driven heart only escalates into war. You can’t fight fear with fear; nobody wins!
- The Sneetches (!!), captures our deep need to be accepted and feel important and how it can be used against us. Then it concludes with how little feeling important and being accepted matters once we learn to accept ourselves and each other for who we are.
3. The Ultimate Gift by Jim Stovall (!!) (Fiction, Parable)
This book is about a young man whose great uncle dies and leaves him a series of “gifts” in his will. Each gift is a task designed to teach the young man a lesson about life that can only be learned through experience. Jim Stovall shares some amazing wisdom in this tale and delivers it in a way that leaves the bulk of the story up to your imagination.
4. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz (!!) (Non-fiction, Self-discovery)
This is one of the most empowering books I’ve ever read. We’ve all heard people say, “words are powerful”. This book has an amazing metaphor of the power of thoughts and words by comparing sentences to the casting of black or white magic spells like in Harry Potter. It really drives home the power of our thoughts/words and how to defend ourselves against the dark arts.
5. The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman (!!) (Non-fiction, Self-discovery)
Let’s say you speak French and your spouse speaks Japanese. It doesn’t matter how slow or fast you speak, you will not understand each other. The more you feel misunderstood, the louder you will probably yell. Imagine screaming, “I LOVE YOU AND I NEED YOUR LOVE” in French and being upset that your spouse doesn’t seem to hear you or return any love… but they keep screaming at you in Japanese and it’s so not useful! Love is communicated much like that. Learn to speak each other’s love language and love will flow between you. (This is also applicable to any person you meet as “appreciation” instead of romantic love.)
6. The Power of TED (The Empowerment Dynamic) by David Emerald (!!) (Fiction, Parable)
We all play the victim quite often. This parable uses a gentleman going through a divorce to introduce a simple way to detect people who are stuck in victim thinking (aka The Karpman Drama Triangle). Then the book teaches how to break out of victim thinking. It’s about 100 pages and it’s an extremely simple and powerful book on how to empower yourself and your thinking.
7. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (!!) (Non-fiction, Self-discovery)
What if “vulnerability” is not a weakness. What if being vulnerable and facing our self is the bravest thing we can ever dare to do. What if vulnerability sound like Truth and feels like Courage. Imagine what we could all do if we weren’t afraid to be/feel vulnerable.
8. The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday (Non-fiction, Self-Discovery)
What if everything we need to encourage our own growth is on the other side of fear. What if we should be running toward obstacles and not away from them.
9. Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
What if the greatest obstacle is ourselves. (Note: this book doesn’t discuss Freud’s ego. It targets the narrator in our head that gets us into trouble because it’s always obsessed with our own importance.)
10. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey (Non-fiction, Self-Empowerment)
I was lucky enough to discover this at age 25. It spring boarded my career as I went from just another guy who shows up and does his job to someone who is making a difference on a team. This book is a little long. Listen for more than the 7 key habits because there’s a lot of great techniques sprinkled throughout (like “Love is a verb. It’s something you do.”).
11. Rich Dad Poor Dad & Rich Dad’s Cashflow Quadrant by Robert T. Kiyosaki (Fiction, Parable)
The first book changed my life. At age 25, I was sitting in rush hour traffic in California, in my fancy convertible, for my standard 1 hour commute to work. I had a fancy new motorcycle in my garage, a credit card that was maxed out, and a savings account that was empty. I was earning more money than I ever dreamed possible, more money than both my parents combine, and I was living paycheck to paycheck with a total of $30,000 of consumer debt. I was a high-paid slave to debt and I had put myself there. The first book woke me up to this fact and gave me many great little habits for understanding and dealing with finances. The second book takes it all to the next level. I wish I had discovered the first book at age 15.
12. If How-To’s Were Enough, We Would All Be Skinny, Rich & Happy and When Good Intentions Run Smack into Reality by Brian Klemmer (Non-fiction, Self-Empowerment)
Both of these are short and to the point. They are collections of little approaches to life that are intended to wake up and self-empower the reader. The first book has “The Formula of Champions” and it’s no joke. These books are a taste of the Klemmer and Associates Leadership training. We also took all three of their seminars and I volunteered to be on staff at one of their Youth Leadership Camps. The seminars were worth every penny.
13. The Rock Warrior’s Way by Arno Ilgner (Non-fiction, Self-Empowerment)
This book is sort of “the art of zen-climbing”. Arno introduces an amazing concept when he defines “your power” as your thoughts, your focus, your attention, your actions, your intentions, (etc.) all combine. Basically, every ounce of your being is your power. How do you currently use it? Do you focus all your power on the same task or do you spread it out on everything? Do you decline to use your power? What things are draining your power without you even knowing? Climbing is all about being in the moment and being wrapped up in the state of flow (or “in the zone”). Arno does an amazing job putting words to that feeling and then teaching how to use 100% of your power. There is also a bit of the “let go of ego” concept woven into this book.
14. The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute (Parable, Self-Empowerment)
The characters in this book are a little flat at first and it can feel a little contrived. However, the concept of the book can shift your view on how we approach the world around us. Is your heart at peace or at war? How does that effect everything you do? (I do not recommend reading their other book, “Leadership and Self-Deception”, because The Anatomy of Peace encompasses everything in that book and more.)
15. The 10X Rule by Grant Cardone (Non-fiction, Self-Empowerment)
This is an entrepreneurial book on thinking big and goal setting. You don’t need to be running a company to apply the concepts. This author’s personality is aggressive and he wants to share that. It’s great for someone like me who tends to take a back seat and let others drive only to realize I’ve been letting life happen to me. Grant Cardone will ask what’s your 10-year goal, give you all the reasons why you should commit to doing it in 1 year, and then follow it up with a bunch of techniques for actually making it happen. It’s about going out and getting what you’ve always wanted.
16. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl (Memoir, Self-Empowerment)
Oh man. This book is heart wrenching and inspiring; a lesson in humanity and the human psyche. Viktor Frankl tells of his personal experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz during World War II and the thought process and visualization techniques he used to get through it. He was psychologist when he entered the camps and put many psychotherapy techniques to the test in the worst man-made place on earth.
17. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (half Memoir, half Mentor)
Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer at Facebook, gives incredible insight on how to be a woman who is in control of her own future. She details all the little ways society steals a woman’s power and all the little unconscious ways woman give their own power away. I personally related to this book because I was age 19 when I started my career and I had “Impostor Syndrome” from many years. This book also gave me great insight and appreciation for what my female coworkers had to overcome every day and gave me the knowledge to be an ally for equality in the work place.
18. The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss (Memoir, Self-Empowerment, Lifestyle Design)
This is an entrepreneurial book on lifestyle design. If you could design your life, what would it look like? Would you be rich with money or rich with time? Why not both? This book is about designing a business that allows you to live the life you want while and outsourcing every piece of it that doesn’t need to directly involve yourself. My wife and I are working on building out our lifestyle design. We call it our “laptop lifestyle” where we can be anywhere in the world, run our business with a laptop, and spend less than one hour a day.
19. The E-Myth by Michael E. Gerber (Non-fiction, Scaling a Business)
“E” stand for “Entrepreneur”. This is an entrepreneurial book on how to setup a business to run itself however it takes a much different approach than The 4 Hour Work Week. The 4 Hour Work Week is all about finding and using leverage to get you your time back while The E-Myth is all about building systems that will allow your business to scale. For example: E-Myth would have you write out roles and goals for your ice cream truck business so you can hire employees to do all the jobs and buy 3 more ice cream trucks while The 4 Hour Work Week would have you do it all while online and in another country.
20. Mastery by George Leonard (Non-fiction, Self-Discovery)
What does it really feel like to be a master of something? How does one get there? That is answered by the middle of the book, then it continues to ask, “then what?” If you think about it, you already know what mastery feels like. You are a master of driving a car. You are so good at it that you don’t even think about it anymore, but what if you did? What’s on the other side of mastery? Is it boredom? Is it indifference? or is there more? If you finally got your black-belt in martial arts, what next?
21. The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor (Non-fiction, Self-Empowerment)
The idea of “if we work hard, we will be successful, *then* we’ll be happy,” is backward. This book explores the opposite approach to show how taking the time to “get your head right” and be happy first will fuel success.
22. The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason (Parable, Self-Empowerment)
A parable where the main character learns lessons in financial wisdom. I had to read it more than once to really absorb it.
23. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill (Non-fiction, Self-Empowerment)
A classic when it comes to visualizing outcomes and having them come true. Combine this with Brian Klemmer’s Formula of Champions and redefine “goal setting” to “intention setting and commitment”.
24. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (Non-fiction, Self-Empowerment)
This book has the worst title in history. It sounds like a slimy, manipulative, salesman book but it really could have been titled, “how to genuinely connect with people”. It explores many concepts including putting yourself in other people’s shoes so you can speak to them in words they will actually hear and understand.
25. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (Parable, Self-Empowerment)
A story about finding your own destiny. “When you really want something to happen, the whole universe will conspire so that your wish comes true.”
26. Tao Te Ching by Stephen Mitchell (I like his translation the best) (Inquisitive Self-Discovery)
At one point in time, on my search for spiritual fulfillment, I was reading various religious and ancient texts. This is the one that really captured me. It is very short and it is mostly a series of questions and almost-complete thoughts. I recommend reading it slowly and allow time to pause often to reflect. The theme is that wisdom cannot be taught, it must be experienced. As I read it, I found myself considering the questions and once I worked thought to the answers I realized that I wouldn’t have absorbed the wisdom if it had been clearly printed on the page. This book has no mention of a god. Unfortunately, Tao, as a religion, took this book and added deities and a belief system to it, thus missing the point entirely.
27. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (Parable, Self-Empowerment)
A wise prophet is leaving to board a ship to never return. As he walks, people stop him for last minute wisdom on the human condition. This book talks about so many topics like, love, kids, marriage, work, emotions, laws, freedom, teaching, friendship, and more. It’s what I would imagine Tao Te Ching might have sounded like if the author attempted to speak the wisdom instead of get you to experience and discover the wisdom for yourself. Now that I just said that, I need to read this book again because I’m sure it was so simply spoken that I didn’t not realize the wisdom or absorb it.
28. Tuesday’s With Morrie (Memoir, Self-Discovery) & The 5 People You Meet In Heaven (Fiction, Self-Discovery) by Mitch Albom (!!)
Mitch Albom is amazing at capturing wisdom and emotion and delivering it straight into my heart.
29. The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg (Non-fiction, Self-Empowerment)
Humans are basically a pile of habits. It makes sense that this must be the way. Otherwise, we’d be using our full brainpower to constantly critically analyze every decision we make –which would be exhausting! “Should I put the milk on the top shelf or the door of the frig?” “Should I tie my shoes before I go outside?” Habits are a necessity to survival. So how can we use that to our advantage? This book explores the habit loop (a cue, a routine, a reward) and how to consciously restructure our own habits into better habits.
30. Quiet by Susan Cain (Non-fiction, Self-Empowerment)
This book was huge for me. I am an introvert and this book explores introverts. Furthermore, the book explores how societies can be introverted or extroverted. America is an extroverted society. Japan is an introverted society. If you think of a powerful CEO in America, an image of a strong, outspoken, charismatic, public figure comes to mind. If you think of a powerful Japanese CEO, you’ll envision a person with a quiet strength who speaks last and shares deep wisdom. An introvert in America will have society apply pressure on them to change in the exact opposite way an extrovert in japan will have society apply pressure on them to change. Quiet taught me that there is power in being an introvert and, although I would like to learn more extrovert skills, I don’t need to be an extrovert to be a leader or to be successful in life.
31. Psycho-cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz (Non-fiction, Self-Empowerment)
Maxwell Maltz’s classic book on achieving positive outcomes through positive visualization and other mental techniques. The big concept I took away from this book is: when we worry we are engaging in intense mental rehearsals of how to make things go wrong. Once we find ourselves in the situation we worried about, our brain unconsciously helps us achieve the outcome we’ve been rehearing in our imagination. For example, stage fright, the anxiety we create before getting on stage, and the paralyzing way our body takes over when we are on stage. Well, what if we could do the opposite. What if we could anti-worry and use the same intense mental rehearsals to practice the BEST outcome. That is what “visualization” really is. Not some Peter Pan “think happy thoughts” stuff. Visualization is an intentional mental practice that actually works if you do the mental work. After enough practice, it can become a habit and be less work.
32. Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (Non-fiction, Self-Discovery)
I’ve read a lot of books looking for the answer to “what is happiness” and “what will make me happy?” Daniel Gilbert has also been doing research on these questions using the scientific method. His results are simple and fascinating. Questioning happiness puts the human condition and our astounding ability to adapt to the test.
33. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (Fiction, Societies and Greed)
Honestly, I can’t believe I made it through the whole thing. Again, I recommend audio books. Ayn Rand paints a picture of a society that declines into chaos. By the end, you’re asking yourself, “my goodness, how did we get here,” then you remember that is was one tiny, greedy, short-sighted decision at a time. I do think Ayn Rand was a little pushy with her political views. It’s clear she loved capitalism and she paints a rosy picture of it being the solution to the world’s problems by the end. I disagree, the world is just not that simple and humans are too young to have found one word that clearly identifies the answer of how to live together in peace and thrive as a species.
34. Animal Farm by George Orwell (Fiction, Societies and Greed)
The opposite of Atlas Shrugged. This is the story of how capitalism rewards some for taking advantage of others. I love the horse who often resolves, “I will work harder,” for the good of the community. The astonishing thing is that greed plays the main role destroying a society in both Animal Farm and Atlas Shrugged. Maybe we’re all being duped right now by arguing over words like capitalism, communism, and socialism. What if any one of those words could be the answer-for or downfall-of society depending on how long it takes greed to poison the system.
35. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (Memoir, Self-Discovery)
Whatever you do, don’t watch the movie! Ick! The book is in first person and the majority of what’s going on is in the main character’s head. The narrator is key. That said, what an incredible journey from hitting rock bottom to taking a chance on searching for one’s self.
36. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman PhD (!!) (Non-fiction, Self-Discovery)
John Gottman did a bunch of long term scientific observation on couples and he made some remarkable discoveries. He was able to discover indicators that would allow him to predict a couple’s eventual divorce with a fairly high accuracy. Then he reversed the indicators and started looking for the opposite habits and details to predict long lasting relationships. His wife, also a PhD, pushed him to publish in non-scientific terms to help the world. What makes marriage work? It’s a collection of little things but important things.
37. Love with a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche (Memoir, Love & Courage)
Full disclosure, I haven’t actually read this version. I read this back when it was self-published and titled “Swept; love with a chance of drowning”. This is the true story of how Torre fell in love with a guy, rather quickly, and decided to go with him on his dream of sailing across the pacific in his own sailboat… even though she’s terrified of deep waters. I love Torre DeRoche’s writing. She has a scene where she is below deck in the middle of a storm, the boat is bouncing around, and she is literally throwing up, yet she describes it as all the objects on the floor doing a waltz.
38. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (Fiction, Societies and Freedom)
Much like early Australia, the moon was used as a prison/exile. It was a one-way trip due to the difference in gravity between the moon and Earth. Once people finished their sentences, they were stuck there to build a life. Many years later, the colony on the moon rebels against the governments of the Earth to reclaim their freedom. Thankfully they have the colony’s computer on their side. I really enjoy how Hienlein creates and fleshes out a complete society based on a couple non-standard ideas. (I also loved “Stranger in a Strange Land” for the same reason.) I have to warn you, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is told in first-person with an accent. The audio book was fantastic, but I can’t imagine actually reading the accent the whole time.
Now I want to re-read all of these books again!