My Summer Reading List

I can't write until I read. Probably because I'm so used to stealing and plagiarizing everyone I read from. When I first started writing heavily in my early 20s (non-stop unpublished novels) I would take off every afternoon from work and probably read a book a day. It's almost fair to say this was the best time in my life. Hours shut away alone, reading every author of the last 100 years, and then spending the evening with friends and the mornings writing.

(Marilyn Monroe was a big reader)

How could I get away with this? I was a programmer. I wrote one program at my job. And then my only job was to maintain it. But it never broke. So I would do whatever I wanted. This was my ideal job. I was never interested in career growth. For awhile I became obsessed with graphic novels. So I applied for an additional job at a comic book store but they rejected me. Then I would spend the afternoons in the library reading from this encyclopedia about contemporary literary criticism about whatever book I had just read. I usually wanted to have sex with any other girl in the library. Particularly if they had glasses. But I kept telling myself, "once I publish a novel I'll be attractive to girls with glasses".

In any case, here's my recommended reading list for the summer. I divided it along the lines of the Daily Practice (physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual) plus a few other fun categories that I think are relevant.

First off, no list would be complete without my books and Claudia's! With my three you get automatically for free by signing up for my email list.

FAQ ME (James)

Books about comedy or by comedians - laughter hits on every level: emotional, mental, physical, spiritual. Just like an egg is considered the perfect meal  because it has all the components of a good meal, laughter performs the same role in life.

Make 'Em Laugh (Billy Crystal)
Mock Stars (Wenzel)
Happy Endings (Jim Norton)
The Bedwetter (Sarah Silverman)
I Found This Funny (edited by Judd Apatow)
I'm Dying Up Here (William Knoedelseder)
700 Sundays (Billy Crystal)
Comic Insights (Franklyn Ajaye)
Seinlanguage (Jerry Seinfeld)
The Comedy Bible (judy carter)
The Funny Thing Is... (Ellen Degeneres)

The Power of Now (Eckhart Tolle)
A New Earth (Eckhart Tolle)
I AM That (Nisragadatta Maharaj)
Be As You Are (the teachings of Ramana Maharshi)
The Gospel of Jesus (Stephen Mitchell)
The Four Chapters of Freedom (Sayananda Saraswati)
Change your Thoughts, Change your Life (Wayne Dyer - his interpretation of the Tao Te Ching)
Turning Your Mind Into An Alley (Sakyong Mipham)
The Places That Scare You (Pema Chodron)
The Way to Love (Anthony De Mello)
Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It (Kamal Ravikant). You can also see my blog post recommending this book. 

(I got this image when searching on "Eckhart Tolle Tony Robbins" so picked this instead of them)

Some thoughts on the above selections:

A) a mixture of eastern and western writers (and western writers with eastern influence)

B) Two Eckhart Tolle books because I think he synthesizes many different practices and cultural philosophies into one that is appealing to the developed world

C) A mixture from Judeo-Christian thought to Buddhism, Taoism, Yoga/Hinduism, Advaita Vedanta, and several of the books (probably all of them) combine all of the above

D) Stephen Mitchell's "The Gospel of Jesus", despite the title, is not the New Testament but his version of it where he picks through the books and tries to determine what the historical Jesus really said as opposed to some of his later interpreters. He also quotes Ramana Maharshi heavily in his interpretation of the historical Jesus' words, which I thought were interesting. Advaita Vedanta mixed with Christianity. Mitchell is married to Bryon Katie who is a great speaker on spiritual topics. I encourage people to wikipedia her story.

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E) The Four Chapters of Freedom is really about Yoga but covers the philosophy more than the physical aspects of yoga. Most people who do yoga don't realize this but in the 195 lines of "The Yoga Sutras" which defined yoga in 300 BC, only ONE line deals with the physical aspects of yoga. The exercises. And all it says is, "you must be able to sit straight".

F) Interestingly, one author above is suing another. So even spiritual people get litigious on occasion. Wayne Dyer's notes on taoism are very compelling to read but he used Stephen Mitchell's translation without acknowledging it. Nevertheless, the book is a valuable way to understand the Tao Te Ching. But an alternative is Stephen Mitchell's own book on the Tao Te Ching.

Note, I did not include any of the BIG books: Buddha's texts (the Pali Canon), the Tao Te Ching, the Bible, the Bhavagad Gita, the Koran, etc. The books mentioned are all written in the past 50 years, apply more to contemporary society, and reference and liberallly interpret the "big" books. I find the older books hard to read. They've been translated so many times but they still contain boring language. I prefer commentary on them to the actual.

The Art of Power (Thich Naht Hanh)
Lines 1:31 - 1:39 of the Yoga Sutras
Authentic Happiness (Martin Seligman)
The Way of The Wizard (Deepak Chopra)
A Return to Love (Marianne Williamson)

(you don't need to go this far to succeed in the Physical category)

MENTAL- for this category I like books that A) give me ideas of things to write about and B) I feel like I'm smarter after I read the book

The Playful Brain (Richard Restak)
Steal Like An Artist (Austin Mclean)
CHESS (Laszlo Polgar)
Evil Plans (Hugh Mcleod)
Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell)
Fooling Houdini (Alex Stone)

Any book from the fiction list (see below)

(more marilyn)


Power Yoga (Birch)Ashtanga Yoga The Step By Step Guide (John Scott)Wheat Belly (William Davis)
Eternity Soup (Greg Critser) (discusses the anti-aging industry)
Healing Back Pain (John Sarno) (Howard Stern AND Claudia used this book to heal back pain)

Fiction - fiction lights my mind on fire. Non-fiction writers, because they devote their lives to non-fiction purposes, are often not the best writers. The people below ARE the best writers. My gratitude towards them knows no bounds. Some of them I've recommended already but I re-read these books all the time. The first book on the list, a book of short stories, I've read over 100 times and probably open it at least once a week...for the past 20 years.

Jesus' Son (Denis Johnson)
Post Office (Bukowski)
Factotum (Bukowsky)
Steps (Jerzy Kosinski)
Venus Drive (Sam Lipsyte)
The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern)
House of Prayer No 2 (Mark Richard) (written in the second person and was inspiration for this post).
A Million Little Pieces (James Frey) (much criticized for being autobiographical fiction instead of autobiography but I think that's why I love it)

If I could read, write, and talk about these guys all day long (from each of the above lists) I would be truly blessed. I love words, I love what they say, I love their backgrounds and their philosophies from Bukowski to Ramana Maharshi to Matt Ridley. It's these works that have formed the backbone of how I live my life now, how I've been able to bounce back from misery, how I developed my own version of the Daily Practice, derived from the slightly more esoteric practices mentioned above. Everything. Just Everything. If you have any more books you'd like to recommend, please recommend in the comments. I NEED more books. I'm hungry.

and on my email list I will recommend more suggestions throughout the summer.

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  • jasontoheal

    thorough list. thanks for some tips on what to read

  • Melissa Abbott

    Really Awesome suggestions James Thanks :)

  • Salima

    Thanks – I was just looking at what to read next! 
    Here are some of my personal faves:
    The Island (and sure, A Brave New World) – Aldous Huxleythe Spiritual Wisdom of Marcus Aurelius: A poetic transcreation – Alan JacobsWhere the Wild Things Are – Maurice SendakThe Paper Bag Princess – Robert MunschThe Music Lesson – Victor WootenThe Road Less Travelled – Dr. Scott PeckTake off Your Glasses and See – Jacob Liberman….and someday, my own book when it’s written!

  • That was garbled…Here they are again, hopefully easier to read:The Island (and sure, A Brave New World) – Aldous Huxley    The Spiritual Wisdom of Marcus Aurelius: A poetic transcreation – Alan Jacobs   Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak   The Paper Bag Princess – Robert Munsch    The Music Lesson – Victor Wooten   The Road Less Travelled – Dr. Scott Peck   Take off Your Glasses and See – Jacob Liberman

    • Great suggestions, Salima. I’ve read 2 of them (Aurelius and Sendak). Both excellent. I will check out the others. Particularly I’m curious about “Take Off Your Glasses and See”. (the title reminds me of my latest book, “I Was Blind But Now I See”. 

      • I know – I’m interested in reading it! Take off Your Glasses and See changed my life – It talks about body sociology and how we are misled into believing that eyesight (vision, more broadly) deteriorates naturally over time or due to genetics. False! I had a -10.00 visual Rx and today am at -5.00 (no laser). Great all around read, for theory and practical aspects – it literally teaches you to see.

    • AvidConfidentialReader

      Paper Bag Princess is excellent children’s book. Read it to your daughters. A fantastic message for the preteen set. Our picture books have been gathering dust while my youngest tackles the weighty young adult genre. I think I will pull this one out and read it to before she enters middle school this year. Every girl should know the line at the end of this book, “Ronald, you are a bum.” :)

      • I know! I still have my pocket sized copy from grade school. It has probably been one of the most important lessons I’ve learned – spotting the bums, and avoiding becoming one myself!

  • traderez

    Dear James , After You having read some of my emails and many tweets  

    do you recommend any certain book for this animal  ?  Be gentle. [8^))

  • TheOfficialJustMe

    The Longest Walk, by George Meegan  (Dude walked from Argentina to Alaska.)
    Happier, by Tal Ben Shahar (Happiness practices based on peer-reviewed research.)
    Mans Search for Meaning, by Frankl  (Holocaust & dealing with suffering in life.)
    The Dip, by Seth Godin (Know which projects to push through and which to drop)
    The Joy of Not Working, by Ernie Zelinsky (Recreation as a lifestyle value)
    Rebel Without a Crew, by Robert Rodruigez (How to film your own movie, written before the digital era)
    The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore (Get productive by integrating fun everyday.)

    • Great suggestions. I’ve read the Rodriguez one (brilliant) but not the others although people have recommended the Frankl book and Godin book to me for a long time. 

    • The Dip is one of my favorites. Such a short little book that sticks with you when things get tough.

  • just a note – it’s Austin Kleon for Steal Like An Artist!  great read, great blogger.  Thanks for this list…I’m bookmarking it.

  • Some recent favorites: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, The Flinch by Julien Smith, Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff, and You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney

  • Jsinger

    “Let the great world Spin” by Colum McCann

  • Jsinger

    “The Power of One” by Bryce Courtney

  • Bryan McMillan

    Great stuff here. (Steps is an interesting choice of Kosinski’s… Cockpit and Blind Date are horrifying, but fascinating. That guy was something else.)

    If you’re in the mood for some moving short stories (I’m a sucker for a well-crafted short story) I can recommend both Among the Missing by Dan Chaon and Stephen King’s surprising collection, Everything’s Eventual.

  • Dandandannnn

    A Fraction of the Whole (Steve Toltz), The True Believer (Eric Hoffer), The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (Stephen Greenblatt), The Social Animal (David Brooks), Kitchen Confidential (Anthony Bourdain), and Childhood’s End (Arthur C. Clarke) have all given me immense pleasure.

  • M Orozco Jr

    Do u prefer having a physical book in your hand or have u gone completely digital?

  • Comprehensive to say the least! I’m never influenced positively by others suggestions to read something they “just loooooved!”  Books are like friends; we like who we like for our own reasons. Personal. Just the same, will read “My Cross to Bear” by Gregg Allman. Also, will re-read Deepak Chopra’s “A Path to Love.” I bought it in NYC, 1992. B&N now says it’s published 5 years ago. Just the same, I don’t know what it taught me, but tried some of his “experiments” that amaze me still to this day.

  • Fertilegrounds

    The Holy Quran

  • Emotional / Spiritual:
    I’m 2/3 of the way through ’50 Self-Help Classics’ by fellow Aussie Tom Butler-Bowden – a superb overview of these books – added a lot more books to my Amazon Wishlist as a result. He’s also written ’50 Success Classics’, ’50 Psychology Classics’ and others. Anything by Steve Chandler is great. He is not as well known as Tony Robbins, etc. but in my opinion he is better.Mental:’Problem Solving 101: A Simple Book for Smart People’ by Ken Watanabe is McKinsey consulting methodology written as a children’s book. An idea I wish I’d thought of.’Moonwalking with Einstein’ by Joshua Foer is a quite remarkable combination of self-help book and reflection on the nature of memory.I also found ‘The Kaizen Way’ by Robert Maurer and ‘The Practicing Mind’ by Thomas Sterner very interesting, useful and enjoyable. Eastern philosophy applied in the real world.Given your views on the ‘value’ of college, I think you’d also like ‘Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar’ by James Marcus Bach. He dropped out of high school at fourteen and never looked back.Fiction:’History of the World in ten and a half chapters’ by Julian Barnes. The ‘half-chapter’ on love still moves this hardened cynic to tears.’The Razor’s Edge’ by W. Somerset Maugham. It is probably the least known of his novels but it is one of the tiny handful of books that have changed my life. Was also made into a great Tyrone Power / Gene Tierney movie in 1946 (avoid the later and inferior Bill Murray version). ‘The Fall of Edward Barnard’ is a short story exploring similar themes.   

    • Adam, Thank you for the tip! I’ve been reading lots of books on success and blogging about them and now I’m going to check out Butler-Bowden’s 50 Success Classics. 

  • kerry saleem

    Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a great trip down 70’s/80’s pop culture memory lane

  • Art Rivarez

    Happiness by Mathieu Ricard

    Meditations by

    Marcus Aurelius

  • What’s Marilyn reading in that first pic? 

    I love good non-fiction, especially essays, so I’d add all of David Foster Wallace’s non-fiction (and fiction for that matter), and I just finished “Pulphead: Essays” by John Jeremiah Sullivan – funny and very well written. Plus, “Everyone Loves you When You’re Dead” by Neil Strauss – more interview format but fascinating and disturbing. 

  • Art Rivarez

    Kural by Tiruvalluvar

    Confessions by Tolstoy

    Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore

    • INteresting. I haven’t heard of any of these. Thanks for the suggestions. I’m particularly curious of Confessions

    • murali

       Gitanjali and Thirukural are really great.

  • TheBlueTurtle

    Hi, James. Although I could recommend many more, let my recommending only one book indicate how important I think that One book is: “Lila” by Robert Pirsig. Yes, the Second book by the author of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, that I’m afraid got No Press and really, really, deserves it. Part novel, part tour-de-force philosophy, with insights into the Nature of Life Itself, he describes as the “Metaphysics of Quality”. Profound implications for defining “what is moral” and understanding the mechanisms and (seeming inherent) Direction of biological as well as cultural evolution. Respecting your own intelligence and insightfulness, I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to get your feedback once you’ve read it. : )

    • Ok, I am definitely going to read it. Thanks. 

    • Chris Wilson

      This book is so great for me because it portrays a dichotomy we all know – people who need to understand HOW things work vs people who just need them to work. Yes, there’s a lot more to it, which I appreciate, but recognizing this little difference helps so much in daily life – especially in this tech-driven world.

  • Two more book recommendations. “In 50 Years We’ll All Be Chicks” by Adam Carolla is one of the funniest books I’ve read. And I would love to hear your thoughts on this book on Happiness, which is another favorite of mine.

    • Ok! I will definitely read it on your suggestion. I’ve seen it in the bookstore but for some reason never picked it up to look more. Thanks. 

  • James you *must* read the Aghora trilogy by Dr. Robert Svoboda. Highly recommended. He is not only a superb writer, he also distills the essence of Indian wisdom, from Tantra to Kundalini to Ayurveda in a way few Western minds can.

    • murali


      I agree that he is a great writer. I, for one, thought that there are easier ways towards peace of mind/nirvana..etc than the ones mentioned in those books.

  • Great list. Thanks. I am interested in several of these. One you might like: Predictably Irrational (Ariely) In the freakonomics vein but better.

  • Danish

    For mental/spiritual(ish?), I nominate The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau.

    • Danish

      Oooh! Another GREAT mental/spiritual pick for music enthusiasts would be The Music Lesson by Victor Wooten. AMAZING new perspective for admirers and especially performers of music.

  • I also recommend Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich and The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.

  • Thanks James. I’ve been waiting for you to publish your recommended reading list for a while. 

    Recommended Books:

    Autobiography of Malcolm X 

    The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout

    Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

    The Strength Within: 7 Steps to Overcoming Life’s Obstacles by Dr. Frank Maurio (This book was recommended in a Mixergy Interview with Rob Locasio – Founder of LivePerson. Awesome interview, I highly recommend watching it. It goes well with 2 of your interviews on Mixergy, so if you haven’t seen Rob’s Interview, watch it :-)

    The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden

    How To Win At The Sport of Business by Mark Cuban

    Crazy Sexy Diet by Kris Carr (She was diagnosed with cancer, and she changed her life to become healthy as possible, by changing her diet, doing meditation, yoga and etc. I would recommend watching her documentary as well “Crazy Sexy Cancer”.)

    The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal by Jared Diamond

  • Stealing and plagiarizing is what all artists do, in the sense that one can only express something in a language that already exists.
    Then, if you’re kissed by God, so to speak, after copying and repeating yourself for decades, you might be able to elaborate a language of your own (that’s creativity) that becomes recognizable by all.

  • Guest

    James can you link last summers reading list to this post? I still want to read some of the books from that list. Thanks

    • Yes, if you could please post your previous list, I’d appreciate it.

  • For the fiction category, may I suggest:
    “The Master and Margarita”  by Mikhail Bulgakov.
    Hilarious (read just the pages in which the Devil is trying to convince two atheists that God exists), very well written and thoughtful.


  • I’m a voracious reader and also a Marilyn fan, so this was a great post. Loved the pictures :) 

  • Oriain

    I am new reader of your blog, James, and I have found it to be inspirational, informative and funny (I loved “Looking Good”!). My first question for you is…can you really read this entire list this summer?!?! I have never been a fast reader and am only now discovering the joys of reading at the ripe age of 47. I can maybe finish 2, 3 or maybe even 4 of these this summer if I put my mind to it. I wish I had the time to enjoy more! I’ll have to make this my reading list for 2012…

    • Oriain, the reason I can is because I cheat. I’ve already read many of them. But I love them so much I am rereading. 

  • Pijei

    Try Murakami “1Q84”

    • Just read it. I liked it. But about halfway through I felt I was committed to it so I had to finish. Wasn’t my favorite Murakami book. I like “What we talk about when we talk about running”. 

  • meatbone9

    Almost anything by Douglas Adams…From A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy to Dirk Gentley’s Hololistic Detective Agency, the man could take the absurdity of being human and make it funny, creative, and smart.

    • Yes, I should’ve put HHGG on the list. One of my all-time favorites. Always bring a towel.

  • I’ll never forgive you for not starting your blog 20 years ago!  :-)

    • Please forgive me! 20 years ago you would not have enjoyed it. Trust me on that. 

      • Chris Wilson

        Yeah, your blog is only good because of the ups and downs that got you here. I love it, though. 

  • Seinlanguage is a classic that i own as well as.  Power Yoga on DVD.  Trader Gang dot com for the best, latest & greatest stock picks.  @myTraderGang:disqus 

    • Thanks for the suggestions. Power Yoga on DVD is probably interesting. The woman who started Power Yoga originally started with Ashtanga Yoga and spent time in mysore (see my post on “I’m completely humiliated by yoga”). Power Yoga is the exact same as ashtanga and i think the mysore guys got a little upset she co-opted it like that. That said, i thought her book was excellent and she provides great modifications for the asanas that are too difficult for mere mortals like me. 

  • “Drift” by Rachel Maddow, for history/politics nonfiction.
    “The Subject Tonight is Love,” poems by Hafiz rendered by Daniel Ladinsky, for spirituality.
    “The Bucolic Plague,” by Josh Kilmer-Purcell, for humor/home improvement memoirs.
    “Failure Is Not An Option,” by Gene Kranz, for science/technology memoirs.
    “Kim,” by Rudyard Kipling, for fiction.
    “The Sherlockian,” by Graham Moore, for fiction.

    Enjoy.  :-)

    • Great suggestions! I’ve read none of these. Have you watched the Sherlock series on BBC?

  • Mike

    “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Roadtrip With David Foster Wallace” – David Lipsky

    • Read that but I didn’t like it. I felt he was taking advantage of his friend’s demise. 

      • Mike

        Perhaps but the insights in that book are great and publishing it gave fans the opportunity to read it. It’s basically dialogue te entire time so it’s also a rare glimpse into his mind that is “off the cuff.” although it never made it, the content was intended for Rolling Stone magazine do it wasn’t like DFW meant for it to be private.

  • Lgpaddock

    Has “Confederacy of Dunces” been added to the list? 

    • I could never get into that one although many people tell me it’s their favorite book. 

  • The amazon link for gospel of Jesus links to another book by James Robinson, not Steven Mitchell. Just a heads up.

  • Dave

    Have you read any Anne LaMott, James?

  • I haven’t. Do you recommend her?

  • Scott

    James after doing a lot of reading on the subject Im not convinced there actually ever was an Historical Jesus.

    • Jide

       I suggest you “the case for Christ” by Lee Strobel. It’s very interesting

  • Oh oh, and The Stranger by Albert Camus : D And the Poisonwood Bible by  Barbara Kingsolver

  • AvidConfidentialReader

    “The monk who sold his Ferrari”: the self help with plot you mentioned last week. Offers its own version of daily practice.
    “Sh*t my dad says” and its follow up, “I suck at girls”: laugh out loud funny.

  • “I’ll put three chips on God”  covers many of your categories all in this
    one book.

    A must read..

    brilliant, unique, powerful, at times humorous by making
    sense and giving credence to all faiths and spiritual beliefs in today’s
    reality. The book “I’ll put three chips on God” is packed with logic
    and at time science to support or just question that doing the right thing like
    exercise with practice will make you stronger and benefit with more practice.
    But it’s so much more that that

    Hey just because the author Preeti Gupta is a CPA, CFP and dedicated
    serial entrepreneur don’t disregard the 275 pages of enjoyable life impacting
    reading. It will be read and then reread at least parts more than once. Hmm reminds me of the great one James Altucher that has also had a profound impact on my life.


  • Kat

    James. You are amazing. Thank you so much for this list! Looking forward to the newsletter as well.

  • Chris Wilson

    I love this list – mainly because I’ve read a lot of the books, so seeing a bunch I haven’t read right next to them is a rush. 

    BTW – did you ever read my book. I sent it to you. Healing The Unhappy Caveman. (  It somewhat defies your categories because it would sit nicely next to Matt Ridley or Deepak Chopra.

    I know you’re busy, so if you read the final chapter, you’ll get the gist. 

    Thanks, as always, for pointing your way.

    • David

      Chris – I read your Amazon book description. I’ve always liked this theory. Growing up, many of my friends and I agreed that life is strange because humans now live in an environment so different from the one we evolved in, a “caveman” environment in which presumably we are most well-suited. While I do not at all think this disparity results in unhappiness (on the other hand, it’s more as though we now live in perpetual awesome Disneyland), it does have implications for behavior. For just one tiny example, there’s no reason to be nervous when hitting on a girl – failure in this society carries little repercussion, but in caveman days, the risk was huge.
      That said, your Amazon book description, like most trailers, offers no real answers.  It just sets up the theory – Caveman Brain Not Meant for Modern World – and then hints “for the answers to all of your problems, just buy my book!”But James Altucher has taught us a valuable lesson on this blog, one that has stuck with me.  Give away your info for free.  I myself market a valuable service online.  I used to only hint at answers, promising full answers once you bought my services.  But now I publish the full answers online.  Guess what – user trust is so high, that my client base has exploded.So, Chris, why not sum up, in just a few sentences, the heart of your solution for the cavemanbrain/modernworld disparity?  I know you can do it.  Most of the big ideas in self-help books, even ones a thousand pages long, can be summed up in a few sentences by a powerful writer.  Write it here, write it in the Amazon description, if people think the answer sounds good, they’ll want to buy the book to hear it expounded upon.  Just vaguely saying that you have answers because you have a theory of the root of a problem smells of snake oil.

      That said, I myself think that we live in an amazing world, one waaaay better than caveman days, and unless I’m insane, I’m pretty sure I’m super happy with life.  Homo Sapiens are in their best world ever – for a short while longer of course, since several successor species are imminent, but I know they’ll be even happier than humans, because they’ll be able to do what humans can do to be happy even better than us – define and control their world.  Which of course we can now do better than cavemen could.

      • Chris Wilson

        Good advice, David. There is nothing in my book that isn’t found in multiple forms on my website. From posts about specific concepts to videos of speaking engagements where I sum it all up – it’s all there. I don’t look at the book as a money maker. It’s just a way to get the ideas out there. That’s what is really important to me.


  • murali


    Great list! Thanks. There is a small typo: It is ‘Turning your mind into an ally”.

     I was looking forward to this post!

    • Thanks, that book saved me in early 2005 for various reasons. 

  • murali

    Constructive living, David Reynolds

    Freedom from the known, J.Krishnamurthi

    On a winter’s night, a traveller, Italo Calvino  (fiction)

    • I should’ve put “The Essential Krishnamurthi” on the list, which I have been reading on and off this past month. Very good. I will check out the others. 

  • The Greek

    James, have you read Ayn Rand’s books? The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

    • I’ve read both of those. Very good books. I don’t like how people mis-apply Ayn Rand’s philosophy of “objectivism” however. I think those two books are about the beauty of competence. I don’t try to give them anything more than that. Although i think the main characters are well done (even if the sub-characters are a bit cartoonish). 

      • Michael

         I don’t agree with everything Ayn Rand believes, but I find it interesting that so many people who disagree with her books are so quick to toss out the baby with the bathwater. I’ve never understood how somebody could flat out hate the whole thing..

  • Our recommendations for the Fiction category:

    Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
    The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
    A Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

  • Mike

    James, a few recommendations:
    Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy.  One of the strangest books I’ve ever read.  There’s absolutely nothing quite like it.  No point in describing it, this one you have to read yourself to appreciate the blast furnace heat of his style.
    The Varieties of Religious Experience, by William James.  A profound book written by an exceptional human being.
    The Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker.  An attempt to fuse psychoanalysis, existentialism, and religion.  A hard book, and if you read it closely you won’t come out the other end as the same person who started the book.
    Ravelstein, by Saul Bellow.  A lovely little book by a great american writer. Reading this again is like slipping into a warm bath.
    Essays, by Samuel Johnson.  Old, but none the worse for that.
    Essays, by Macauley.  If there’s a better writer of english prose then I have yet to find him, or her.  His essay on Francis Bacon which is nominally about Bacon, the rise of inductive logic and experimentation, has an aside in the middle of it where he does the best skewering you’ll read of the pomposity of Seneca, is worth the price of admission all on its own.  He writes in a time where he expected his reader to know Latin, Greek, French, and Italian.  So when he quotes Plato, there no translation.  He expects you to be THAT educated.
    Cultural Amnesia, by Clive James.  Short pieces on some remarkable people written by a very good author.  

    & thanks for your recommendations.

  • Anjanikumar

    If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! by Sheldon Kopp
    Great Book ! Great Quotes!1. This is it!. There are no hidden meanings2. Nothing lasts! You can’t get there from here, and besides, there’s no place else to go3. There is no particular reason why you lost out on some things.4. The world is not necessarily just. Being good often does not pay off and there is no compensation for misfortune.5. It is a random universe to which we bring meaning.

  • Monica

    Hi James, I love your blog so much. You are wonderful. Reading (esp. fiction) gives me such a rush, too.  Loved your list- the following are some of my all-time favorites that I think you’d enjoy: Atonement by Ian McEwan, White Teeth by Zadie Smith, Til We Have Faces and The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, Native Speaker by Chang-Rae Lee, The Witches and The BFG by Roald Dahl (rereading them as an adult makes all your troubles go away), The Stranger by Albert Camus, Franny and Zoey by J.D. Salinger, Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.  I’m so excited for your upcoming lists.  Thank you for being so honest and vulnerable and bleeding on virtual paper. You rock. 

  • JimW

    Great list as always James. I have a few recommendations for you too:

    1. No boundary: Easter and Western Approaches to Personal Growth by Ken Wilbur. Awesome book. Also recommend “A brief history of everything” and “Integral Spirituality” by the same author
    2. Grandfather by Tom Brown Jr. Grandfather was actually Stalking Wolf – a wise and courageous Native American elder who served as the medicine man for a fiercely independent Apache tribe that refused to be domiciled. Other books by Tom Brown are awesome too
    3. Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh. A beautifully spiritual book

    I could mention more, but those are 3 of my favourites! Thanks for your brilliant writing James. Keep it up! 

  • Great!

    Here are a few more:

    The 6 Pillars of Self Esteem by Nathaniel Branden
    The Art of Living Consciously by Nathaniel Branden
    Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg
    Flinch (free on Amazon)
    Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

    BTW, you seem to have read an amazing amount of books….any tips on speed reading? I’m a slow reader, but I do enjoy it.

  • BillSeitz

    I have a variety of my favorite fiction and non-fiction reads at:

  • The Greek

    Do you guys prefer paper books or reading on a tablet/Kindle?

    The former is better in my opinion but the latter is so much more convenient :X

  • Valerie

    Love Sherlock Holmes, the old Jeremy Brett series reruns (channel 470 in NYC) are great and true to the feel. There used to be a “Boys’ Sherlock Holmes” which was the complete anthology, but doubt it exists anymore.

    My 3 favorite for fiction:
    Catch-22 – already mentioned by so many others..  ;)
    The Little Prince
    Siddhartha, Hesse

    The following are similar in their didactic approach: Hill is dense but worth the effort (my own tattered, underlined, highlighted, chewed up version is MIA, it got me through a bad patch in 2010, just reordered). I just started the Neville after it sat around for 3 months, it’s Tao meets Hill meets Chodron and is a beautiful, beautiful book. 

    The Power of Awareness, Neville
    Law of Success (original/1925 version), Napoleon Hill

    Thank you for posting your list, I love the comedy idea, will check it out!

  • For the entrepreneur – The Millionaire Fastlane.  Really great way to look at what building a successful business needs.

    Fiction – Dune.  It’s a classic story that I can read over and over.

    Biography – Steve Jobs.  I’m almost done with it.  Every chapter is full of fascinating info on the person behind Apple and Pixar.  As you have written James, Jobs wasn’t perfect in any way but he never stopped evolving.

  • Michael

    Don’t you think End of Faith by Sam Harris belongs in a any discussion about religion? His arguments are laser-like.

  • Bec Fordyce

    “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz.  Great reading.

    • Michael

       This book holds a special place in my heart as one of the most boring books I have ever read. Philosophically loose, at best.

  • wow! this is a long reading list… found some exciting and interesting titles too.. i really like the balance in your selection.. happy reading :)

  • Monocled

    Oh dear, judging from your are a dark one James

  • Michael

    I got a lot more out of “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell than “Outliers”. His exploration of decision making is awesome.

    Also, for those with some time, “Song of Fire and Ice” (game of thrones) series is awesome. The books are much more involved than the show, and truly a work of art as a portrait of the human condition..

  • Michael

    Another great suggestion I would make is Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of The United States”. 

  • C Pennybrown

    “The Vanishers” by Heidi Julavits.  Great, original voice.  

  • Spenser Davis

    GREAT list of fiction. I’m reading Jesus’ Son and some of the stories are just mind-blowing.

  • Mark

    Thanks James. Here’s my contribution. I think you would enjoy, “The Essence of Reality” and “The Psyche Exposed”, by Thomas Daniel Nehrer. If you only have time for one then go with his second, “The Psyche Exposed”.

  • JosieJones

    Hey, come on, you left off “Jonathon Livingston Seagull.”

    “The Way of The Wizard” definitely!

  • Daniella

    Hi James, have you ever read anything by Nikolai Gogol? I think you would enjoy his short stories. Thanks for sharing your list.

  • Tcapacci

    Hey James,

    I recommend a great french writer if you dont know him yet: Bernard Werber, i read almost all of his books.

  • Tcapacci
  • Too many suggestions :) What would be your choice if you only had to pick one book in each category?

  • Alex

    youre going to read all these books over summer? you read a book a day or what?

  • James, Here’s a couple of suggestions, when you read Bukowski’s HAM ON RYE, you may wish to follow it with CATCHER IN THE RYE – there are more similarities than just the title. Also, after reading JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT, read HUCKLEBERRY FINN, both were radical for similar reasons. I seem to remember DEATH ON THE INSTALLMENT PLAN was a better book though.

  • Cynthia

    James, I’d like to recommend How To Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali by Swami Prabhananda and Christoper Isherwood. Thanks for your recommendations.  

  • Ross Bergman
  • Red

    The Giving Tree -Shel Silverstein  :)

  • Anmol

    I’ve compiled all the books (sans a couple, which weren’t available) recommended by James on goodreads. It could be of help to everybody!!


    3 Recommends:

    The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely

    The Invisible Gorilla by Chabris and Simons

    Either You’re in or You’re in the Way: Two Brothers, Twelve Months, and One Filmmaking Hell-Ride to Keep a Promise to Their Father by Logan Miller and Noah Miller

  • Thanks for sharing!

  • Love this post! Thanks a lot Mr. Altucher

  • Elevic Pernis

    How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles van Doren
    The Joys of Reading by Charles van Doren

    Having a framework on reading is instrumental so you can more effectively read books.

    A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine.
    It’s his interpretation of Stoic Philosophy. He gives practical tips on how to apply Stoicism.

    If you like Eckhart Tolle, read Beyond Happiness by Frank Kinslow. He book is more accessible than Tolle’s. While I got a lot of tough love from A New Earth, you don’t have to go through the torture of reading it if doesn’t resonate with you.

  • Any new selection for 2014?

  • BHill

    A few suggestions…

    1. On Writing by Stephen King
    2. Antifragile by N.N. Taleb
    3. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by M. Willems
    4. The War of Art by S. Pressfield
    5. Pulphead by John J Sullivan
    6. The Caine Mutiny by H. Wouk
    7. East of Eden by J. Steinbeck
    8. Infinite Jest by DFW

  • Jay

    How about investment?