23 Excellent Books You Should Read

23 excellent books you should read“How can you read so much?”

“Where do you find the time to read?”

“Reading books on your free time? Why do that — the course literature is enough.”

People seem to think that the university has a monopoly on education. They think they’ll learn everything they need in school. Is this true?

I think not.

I think public education is way too narrow.

So I read as much as I can on my free time!

A photo posted by LudvigSGM (@ludvigsunstrom) on

For me, a real education means self-education.  No one will “give me” education. Not even the university.

In a few months I’ll be graduating from university, getting my degree. Just like many others. Will this make my degree less valuable? Should I be worried about the competition?

–I’m not.

But I understand why many people think like that. And maybe they should think like that. . . . because many of them don’t have any real knowledge.

A degree is just a piece of paper. Just because someone hands you a piece of paper doesn’t automatically mean that you’re smart or important. Nor does it entitle you to a high wage.

But if you read lots of good books, learn useful things and know how to which things in what context–then you’re onto something. (Keeping a book summary book is a great way for doing this.)

I feel like my peers read maybe 1-5 popular books per year to keep up with the trends. They read silly detective stories. Compare that to a person who reads 20-100 serious books per year, and applies the lessons.

These two people are NOT comparable, over time.

When you become a regular reader of quality books you gain knowledge. You learn to combine, synthesize and apply ideas from different disciplines in a way that most people cannot.

This is an acquired skill, and it takes practice to acquire it.

What is “real” education?

Education, for me, is meant to provide confidence, competence, and freedom. Does school provide that? I don’t think so.

You’re “forced” to learn outdated theory and politically correct bullshit. In real life you’re free to learn whatever you choose.

Few people become rich or successful without being voracious readers. The only exception that comes to mind is Rick Ross (not the rapper). He became a multimillionaire without knowing how to read. But he was a big time drug dealer. And you’re probably not.

What books should you read?

Here’s a list of 23 books I recommend for you.


Ceasar colossusCaesar: Life of a Colossus — Adrian Goldsworthy

Very detailed depiction of Caesar’s entire life as well as other important events in the Roman Empire. You’ll learn much about the history of Rome; how they waged war, and how the political system worked.


Memoirs of NapoleonMemoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte — Louis Bourrienne

To my knowledge, this is the longest and most accurate biography on Napoleon Bonaparte’s life. You may consider reading an easier and “more entertaining” book on Napoleon before reading this one, to get more associations in your head. (If you already have some associations it becomes easier, and more fun, to keep building on that. It’s a smart learning hack.)

You can get the books for free on Project Gutenberg if you care to read 1200+ pages on your computer screen.


Muhammad AliMuhammad Ali : The Greatest

Ali was one hell of a guy.

What I like most about this book is that it gives such a clear peek into Ali’s work ethic and mindset.

There’s was no coincidence that he became as successful as he was. He outworked every other boxer. He outpromoted every other boxer. He outentertained every other boxer.


Nikola TeslaThe Strange Life of Nikola Tesla: Autobiography

46 pages of awesomeness. The fact that Tesla wrote down his life story in just 46 pages says a lot about his personality. Tesla was probably the closest thing to a superhuman genius this world has ever seen. His childhood was very strange.

You can get the PDF for free here.


arnoldArnold Schwarzenegger — Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story.

I loved reading this book. Arnold is so much smarter than he is given credit for.

It was especially interesting to learn about his humble beginnings, his raw ambition, and his inability to compromise on goals. His methods for marketing, networking and self-discipline are also useful to learn about.


jordan belfortThe Wolf of Wall  Street — Jordan Belfort

This is a well-written and entertaining book. It contains a number of practical lessons on business, management, salesmanship and charisma if you read between the lines.

Perhaps the best lesson from the book is: how can you become as good at telling entertaining stories as Jordan Belfort?




Atlas ShruggedAtlas Shrugged — Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged & The Fountainhead for the purpose of portraying the ideal man. She succeeded. Read the book!

Ayn Rand depicts the boring and empty lives that most people lead; lives lacking in integrity and self-respect, which ultimately leads them to seek external validation to make up for their inner emptiness.


FountainheadThe Fountainhead — Ayn Rand

Be selfish for “man’s ego is the fountainhead of all progress.”

This book is a lot like Atlas Shrugged — only better. It’s more concise (700 pages vs 1200 pages) and entertaining. In Atlas, the story suffers from Rand’s lengthy philosophical outbursts, and the philosophy sometimes suffers from her lengthy descriptions of the environment. In Fountainhead there isn’t much of that.

The main reason to read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged is because these books will strengthen the mental image about who you want to become and the life you want to lead.


Victor franklMan’s Search for Meaning — Victor Frankl

Victor Frankl is a Jewish survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. But he’s also a smart psychologist and a writer.

In this book he thoroughly analyzes what made the terrible circumstances of concentration camps endurable to some prisoners — such as himself — but unendurable to most others.

What gives life meaning in such a situation? Why do some people break down while others stay (somewhat) stable under gruesome conditions?

Frankl has written more books, but they suck. This one is good. It’ll teach you much about the power of visualization and mental rehearsal.


MontaigneComplete Essays of Michele de Montaigne

This is the best collection of philosophical essays I have ever read. Much better than Emerson’s or Bacon’s

Have you heard the Shakespearean quote, “Nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so” ? Shakespeare stole that from Montaigne, who said that “things are not bad in themselves, but our cowardice makes them so.”

Montaigne is also the guy who created the French word essay. Essay = to test your thoughts on a topic. He is also one of my role models when it comes to practicing metacognition and self-awareness.

Book 3 is the best one, in my opinion.


Jed McKennaSpiritual Enlightenment: The Damndest Thing — Jed Mckenna

The first book of a trilogy about enlightenment.

If you think enlightenment means to experience a state of constant bliss, and that it is easily attained, think again…

Jed McKenna is a great wrter. His sense of simplicity, taken to the maximum, permeates through all the books. Even the design and text.

If you like this book, you will also like the other two books in the trilogy. And the follow-up book, Jed Mckenna’s Theory of Everything: The Enlightened Perspective. They’re all written in the same characteristic way.


Marcus AureliusMeditations — Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was the Roman philosopher king. Meditations was one of his private journals, in which he carried on a philosophical dialogue with himself to attain accurate thinking and make wiser decisions.

This is the single best piece of stoic literature. You don’t need to read Epictetus, Seneca, Zeno, and so on (unless you want to). This book will give you 80 % of the content you’re looking for if you’re interested in Stoicism.

I’ve listened to the audio book about 20 times for repetition’s sake.

The most important thing I got from it is to always ask myself:

“Is this one of the necessary things?”

You can get the PDF for free here.



Napoleon hillThe Law of Success in Sixteen Lessons — Napoleon Hill

The only book you need to read from Napoleon Hill, and really, traditional self-development. Every other book in the genre is merely a knock-off. Save yourself some time and read this book thoroughly instead.

Don’t read Think and Grow Rich or Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude. Read the original book. Always try to get as close to the source as possible, instead of settling for dumbed-down versions of the same material.


flowFlow — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Don’t worry, you don’t need to know how to pronounce his last name to read the book.

This is a good book in which you’ll learn the psychology of how to get yourself into flow — the state in which you do optimal work, feel awesome and do little conscious thinking.

You’ll also learn a lot of cool and useful trivia. I highly recommend you read this book. I read it a few years ago after one of the richest men in Sweden (now dead) told me to read it. He told me it was the most important book he had ever read.


david j schwartzThe Magic of Thinking Big — David J Schwartz

Probably my second favorite traditional self-development book. Contains a lot of concrete and practical advice that you can immediately implement.  It also contains plenty of ways for you to think more efficiently when faced with certain challenging situations.


steve siebold177 Mental Toughness Secrets of the World Class — Steven Siebold

This book has a cheesy cover, but it’s short and easy to read. You can read it in one or two sittings.

It’s about the 177 differences between champions and average people.

If you aren’t a big reader, and if you aren’t already “super-knowledgeable” about self-development, I would recommend that you begin by reading this book because it’s very easy to read and it gives a great overview.


war of artThe War of Art — Steven Pressfield

Great book on developing a stronger work ethic. Teaches you to disregard any illusions of easy success. Just focus on doing the work, and it’ll turn out well eventually. Beat the resistance every day.

If you’ve read my book Breaking out of Homeostasis, you’ll find that what Steven Pressfield refers to as “the resistance” is probably homeostasis. However, Pressfield is a lot more spiritual/metaphysical about it.

You will be inspired by reading it.

Other Books

4hwwThe 4-Hour Work Week — Tim Ferriss

The book title is an oversell, just like everything else from Tim Ferris. Working four hours per week is for lazy people. The law of compensation is always at work.  You either outwork and outsmart people for a number of years, or you work slowly all your life, like the average person does.

However, this book has a lot of practically useful tips. It’ll also open up your mind to some of the things that are possible to do — professionally speaking — if you do things differently.


Laptop MillionaireThe Laptop Millionaire — Mark Anastasi

Even if you currently don’t have any ambitions of making money online you should still read this book, because it’s filled with cool ideas and strategies. Many are outdated, and the author exaggerates greatly about how much money you can make. But you will get many good ideas. And remember, if you get even one good idea from a book, it was a book worth reading!

There’s zero fluff in it (except for some crappy product recommendation links).


david ogilvyConfessions of an Advertising Man — David Ogilvy

Ogilvy was one of the greatest admen ever — and a great writer. If you’re into marketing, advertising, or writing, you need to read this book. It’s filled with brilliant stuff from the first page to the last.

The book is short, but highly concrete. It contains many practical tips on writing, presenting and pitching, and creating ads.

It took me a surprisingly long time to finish this book, because I transcribed almost the entire book.

linchpinLinchpin: Are You Indispensable? — Seth Godin

If you’re an employee looking to get an edge over your peers, you must read this book. Here’s how it works: You must become indispensable. When you are indispensable you will get paid much more, because the company desperately needs you.

And how do you become indispensable?

By becoming the go-to guy for different things. By handling essential clients. By over-delivering value. By daring to oppose the status quo. By daring to speak up and give useful feedback when other people are yes-men. Also: Be sure to listen to or read the summary of my conversation with Seth Godin for Future Skills.

Principles — Ray Dalio

Free book written by one of the smartest and most successful people in the world. I highly recommend it.

The first half of the book is devoted to Dalio’s life philosophy and the second half is devoted to managerial principles. I wrote a summary article on it you can read.

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  1. Hi, great article!
    Two minor spelling remarks: Michel de Montaigne and Viktor Frankl.

  2. Great article

  3. No biographies of women? Seems a bit strange that the only lives you think are valuable to read bout are men.

  4. Joseph Smith, PhD says

    Ha ha.
    How did you get into my personal library?

    Ya, I have all those books and many more.

  5. I’ve read most of these but haven’t seen others. Will definitely be checking them out. Thanks!

  6. I found your website from a link of yours regarding Lee Kwan Yew (Munger directed me to him too).

    I cannot explain how excited I am to have found this list of books. There is much knowledge and wisdom to be learnt and lived by :)

    I deeply appreciate you making this content available.

  7. Hi Ludvig, I wanted to ask you, do you read classics? I used to read them a lot as a part of my high school curriculum and I think they were crucial for me as they developed in me passion for reading and learning. What I like about them that they are often set in a different historical context, and you can learn a lot just from researching about it (you like history, right), it’s author, what has influenced him and so on…
    I’m talking about well known books like The Stranger, The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, Old man and the sea, The Master and Margarita, The Trial, Brave New World and you know, the stuff that ( I think) you read in school and most students consider boring. I think that autors of those and similar, well known books were amazing and intelligent people and that trough their novels they can convey us great, universal wisdom. I am curios to not whether you have read some of them and what is your opinion.

    (These link are just example descriptions of books I recommend)

  8. Hi,

    There must be Benjamin Franklin’s “Autobiography” somewhere as well.

  9. ”Education is meant to provide confidence, competence, and freedom”

    Couldn’t agree more. Ludvig you have amazing content here. Good job

  10. Great recommendations! I’ve read six of the books you mention, so I think I’ll take a look at some of the others.

    I also love that you have included the Caesar biography and Meditations. There were a lot of interesting men in Ancient Rome, and you can learn a lot from them – but only very few people today are aware of the greatness of the Romans. Have you read anything from Cicero?

    – Jacob

    • That’s cool. Which books did you already read?

      The Romans were great indeed. The Greeks were clearly culturally and intellectually superior to the Romans. But the Romans were more disciplined–they were fierce executors. And great system-builders.

      I have read Cicero’s “Tusculunae Disputationes”, in Swedish. It sucked. I have also read parts of “De Officiis”, which is decent (but not great).

      You can read “De Officiis” online here if you want:

      • I’ve read Meditations, The Strange Life of Nikola Tesla, Total Recall, Flow, Law of Success and 4-Hour Work Week. Except for Total Recall, I learned a lot from all of them. I haven’t read the exact Caesar biography you’re referring to, but I’ve read parts of his own Commentarii de Bello Gallico – I highly recommend it for anyone interested in Caesar or just history in general.

        Also, thanks for the De Officiis link! I might check it out when I get the time.

        The reason I asked about Cicero – if you haven’t read “De Oratore” or “In Catillinam”, I think you (and many other readers here) will find those texts interesting. In “De Oratore”, the importance of oratory, the ideal speaker, fundamentals of rhetoric, etc. are desribed. The “In Catillinam” texts are of course famous speeches by Cicero himself. I know some of his stuff can be boring, but when I read first the works mentioned here, I learned a lot about rhetoric that I didn’t know before.

      • Well, here are the main lessons I learned and what I found most interesting. I’ll try to keep it short, but there are a lot of good points in the book:

        – According to Cicero, anyone who can speak well (and use it in practice) can be called an orator, but to be great, knowledge is vital. Without great knowledge, the speech will not be felt properly by yourself or by the audience and will definitely not be as convincing. That’s also why it’s nearly impossible to become a ‘perfect’ orator – you can’t possibly know every fact there is.

        – According to Crassus, nothing is more noble than a speaker who can direct his own passion into words and performance. Oratory makes it possible to defend oneself and persuade others.

        – A great speaker must have morals, know philosophy and have the understanding of people in general. Looks matter and so do good body language and control over the voice.

        – There are 5 essential parts in creating a fine speech: Find the arguments, then dispose the speech in a proper order, use the right words to go with the arguments, before securing them in memory and finally deliver the speech with outstanding charisma.

        – To become a better speaker: Improve memory (read books and other speeches, then remember them), improve voice control and body language (study orators and actors) and get more knowledge (read books, study laws, study history). These methods of improving were used daily by Crassus, the great Roman orator, and are described very clearly in the book.

      • Alright. Thanks a lot Jacob. I just read the entire Wikipedia section on it and downloaded the book.

  11. Ludvig,

    I really enjoyed reading Flow, The Magic of Thinking Big, Total Recall and Meditations. Thanks for the tips!

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