Crowdsource Your Reading List From People You Admire
What should you read next? Whatever books shaped the people you most admire and respect.
When I was a teenager, I began a habit that would change the course of my entire life. I don’t mean to overstate it — it was simple, just a question I would ask the people I met — but without it, I’m not sure who I would have turned out to be.
Every time I would meet a successful or important person I admired, I would ask them: What’s a book that changed your life?* And then I would read that book. (In college, for instance, I was lucky enough to meet Dr. Drew, who was the one who turned me on to Stoicism.)
Who I asked the question to first, or how I came to the habit, I can’t recall, but the results stayed with me. I can reel off the titles of the books that came out of it like they are tattooed on my body:
- 48 Laws of Power
- Autobiography of Malcolm X
- History of the Peloponnesian War
- What Makes Sammy Run?
- Man’s Search for Meaning
The question that produced these books as answers was not borne of idle curiosity. It was my way of cutting through a personal conundrum, which was this:
I loved books and was very hungry for the good stuff — what Tyler Cowen has called “quake books.” The ones that shake you. That knock everything over and turn it upside down. But I also understood that there are so many books out there, and only so much time. It was overwhelming.
Which books should I read? Should I read books about physics or books about history or books about self-improvement? And even if I knew the genre I preferred, which authors should I read and why? Should I read new books or old books? The books getting rave reviews or the classics or the ones on the featured table in the front of the store?
I didn’t know. So this question was my hack.
If a book changed someone’s life — whatever the topic or style — it was probably worth the investment. If it changed them, I thought, it might at least help me.