2015 was the year of quantified reading. As a highly driven, independent learner I set a goal to read at least a book a week on any subject which interested me at a given moment. This resulted in more than 50 books read over the course of the year, with a couple of weeks still to go.
When I set out on this reading journey, my analytical side demanded I set up a spreadsheet in which I could keep track. I gave each book a rating (scale of 1 to 10), calculated pages read, time taken to complete the book and more. I also tracked daily averages which would keep me motivated.
Numbers however are a poor representation of the lessons learned during this experiment. I’ve been exposed through priceless knowledge, on many areas of life, thanks to my diverse reading list. Looking back on the year, there is one overarching lesson that I’ve learned and would like to share with you.
Before I get to that, I want to introduce you to the principles that helped me read a lot more this year than any previous year. I’ll also share with you takeaways from my top-rated books this year – this should give you an idea of the effort put in and, who knows, maybe you’ll find a book to add to your own reading list!
The principles that helped me to read more
- I aimed for 2 hours of reading a day, no excuses. This included my commute and the time I spend reading right before sleep to calm my mind.
- I committed to finishing every book I start.
- I relied on multiple channels to meet my reading goal, namely Kindle and paper books. Although I still prefer the paper version, Kindle seems to reduce my reading time in half thanks to its varied formatting.
- I kept up the momentum I get learning by reading everyday. I noticed that even one day without reading would interrupt the habit – It would be hard to get back into a reading mood later on.
- I used speed reading and speed learning techniques from Jonathan Levi and Tim Ferris in the second quarter of 2015. These techniques included:
- Shortening sentences to aid faster eye movements down the page (saccades)
- Not allowing myself to go back and re-read paragraphs if my mind wandered
- Tracing words on the page with a pointer (e.g. a pencil or piece of paper) to jump word to word
My top-rated books from 2015 with key takeaways for any high achiever
Books Rated: 8/10:
$100 Dollar Startup by Chris Guillebeau
How to kickstart a startup business, side hustle or that project you always wanted to monetize.
We all know that ideas in itself are worthless unless they can become actionable. This book is all about helping you ‘action’ – teaching you ways to brainstorm and make ideas into actual products. What you are going to find most useful is the principles and frameworks to test various stages of your product.
Most useful to me personally, was the information about launching your product and how to prepare for it – I applied this in many later projects. I recommend reading this one together with Tim Ferris’ 4 Hour Workweek, to get the full technical advice and practical knowledge on starting a business.
Obstacle Race Training Bible by James Villepigue
As close to an OCR bible as you’ll get.
This will suit total beginners to the sport of obstacle course racing as well as the more advanced athletes. Here’s what you can expect:
Guided workout plans and exercises to prepare for specific race distances and obstacle types. This is presented with detailed descriptions, all the facts you need to know, and so on.
Obstacle racing sport is a runner’s game so the focal point of your workout plan should be increasing endurance.
There are more than a few types of races which athletes of all types can prepare for.
Unbeatable Mind by Mark Divine
Mark Divine is a renowned SEALFIT commander and an amazing leader. In this book, he discusses key ways of improving your internal communication (or mind chatter) and your communication with the surrounding world. It discusses mental and physical tips for staying calm, achieving greatness and being a better leader.
My favourite takeaway was Mark’s instant relief strategy called box breathing where you deep-breathe yourself to calm. I wrote an article about it which you can read here.
Total Recall by Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold’s life to date in a book.
A fascinating retelling of Arnold’s long-lasting struggle and amazing hustle, this book is also a lesson in how to have clear goals and be relentless in reaching them. Truly admirable and should be read by many.
Define your passions and focus on them no matter what – Arnold had a clear vision even in his childhood that he will be a bodybuilder, move to US and become a movie star etc. From there on he just had to execute steps to make it happen.
The Basics Of Winning Hold’em Poker by Avery Cardoza
A well-written primer to help anyone start playing hold’em poker. It teaches game mechanics, different types, and basic decision patterns to win.
New poker players will find this helpful.
8 Weeks to Sealfit by Mark Divine
Targeted at athletes and aspiring warriors intrigued by the world-famous SEALFIT academy program, this book takes you through the workout plans any potential SEALFIT academy member should be able to perform. Mark explains why in plenty of detail. If you’re curious about the types of workouts, they are stricter versions of the typical crossfit and warrior yoga. SEALFIT commander Mark Divine not only explains every movement but also demonstrates it in photos.
This is a book for anyone who wants to build unbreakable bodies and mind through resilience. Get a taste for it by trying out the SEALFIT screening test I wrote about here.
The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
A well written and fluid read of stoic philosophy applied to modern life.
Ryan Holiday is a marketing genius, but also a lifetime student of stoic values. In this book he covers multiple stories of extraordinary people – people such as Theodore Roosevelt, Demosthenes, John D Rockefeller, Amelia Earhart, Barack Obama and many more – who not only overcame trials but made them into triumphs.
The philosophy in the book is structured around three main disciplines:
perception, action and will. These are the key values any entrepreneur should convey.
Ryan shows you how to master these disciplines to overcome obstacles on real-life stories and anecdotes from the lives of those extraordinary people above.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
A solid primer on developing the financial freedom mentality instead of always having that greedy sense of entitlement that’s all too common in modern cultures.
Robert tries to cover the complete opposite of working for money: through assets and smart investing he shows how you can make your money work for you.
The Science of Likability by Patrick King
This book is the intersection of the psychology of influence and the famous book ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’. Its content is very much distilled and luckily missing any highly scientific jargon.
In essence all 16 principles listed in this book are tied to one famous behavioral psychology and classical conditioning study done by Prof. Pavlov. He exposed his dog to two types of stimuli: one which would activate pleasure (food) and the other which was more generic (e.g. an audible ring). After some time whenever the dog would hear a ring, it would start to salivate and subconsciously assume to receive food. Unfortunately, this model of classic conditioning works just as well on humans.
Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson
A motivational tale about four entities – two mice and two little people – and how they adapt to change once cheese runs out. This is an all-too familiar cautionary tale of noticing change, monitoring it and responding to it.
The biggest takeway in this very short, but metaphor-rich book, is that we all have those 4 entities within us. Some have more of one and the others have more of other sides. Learning to adapt to any situation by employing the correct entity is the key to survival and success.
Recommended to everyone who have faced or is about to face a change in their lives. It provides a healthy take and framework for moving on when the time is right.
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
A well-written inspirational story for entrepreneurs in any field, from lifestyle to technology.
Elon is an extraordinary entrepreneur and dreamer trying to shape everyone’s future by bringing to life innovations that most think impossible..
What I liked the most about his story were the very relatable ups and downs Elon experienced trying to get things right whilst constantly facing bankruptcy. Although he faces problems and shortcoming so often, he never gives up thanks to his unshakeable vision of what he wants to achieve – “no” is not an option.
Books Rated: 9/10:
7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey
This book teaches 7 easily applicable principles for being a more effective person, employee and entrepreneur. The most impactful principles for me include: being proactive, beginning with end in mind, thinking win-win, first seeking to understand then to be understood. All of these are explained through engaging examples.
There’s an underlying theme of abundance versus scarcity mentality throughout this book. An abundance mindset is a known recipe to achieving more and living life to its fullest.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
An ancient book that is a real-life example of stoicism. It is the war journal of a famous Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius.
The journal is a collection of Marcus’ thoughts on living better, communicating and interacting with others, achieving your goals, having a purpose, and more. There’s no filler in this book as all of his thoughts are bitesize snippets – perfect for any modern-day high achiever.
Bulletproof Diet by Dave Asprey
A high fat and low carb approach to everyday diet that’s not quite keto either. The main focus of the bulletproof diet lies on increasing specific saturated fat sources such as grass-fed butter and eliminating some of the ‘kryptonite’ foods which are commonly contaminated with what Asprey refers to as ‘mold toxins’. These toxins are thought to increase risk of cancer, headaches, brain fog and weight gain. The biggest takeaway is to focus on achieving hormone balance but still being mindful of your calories as they do matter.
Good read for anyone looking to upgrade their diet and performance without counting calories and feeling miserable. This book will also introduce you to coconut oil coffee – a fantastic weapon to help you reach clarity of the mind and stop you being distracted by food cravings.
4 Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss
The best of Tim Ferriss’ books, this is a primer for skill acquisition. It’s all about deconstructing and learning a new skill in minimum time, the example here being cooking.
This big, fat book is filled with step-by-step visual guides of cooking skills, recipes, but also lifehacks and biohacks to make the best out of any situation. For example he shows how to hunt an elk, skin it, prepare the meat and then includes recipes to make it amazing. Don’t be afraid it is not just a macho cookbook though.
What I personally found useful were pro techniques for chopping, slicing and cooking which transformed how I approach creating delicious meals.
Beyond Training by Ben Greenfield
An athlete’s bible and an absolute must for any physically active high achiever.
Written almost like a textbook, this book teaches how to optimize endurance and busy lifestyle in minimum effective doses, featuring smarter ways to train, eat and live a long life.
The Everything Store – Jeff Bezos and the age of amazon by Brad Stone
A very detailed take on Amazon’s Jeff Bezos life and a detailed look into how (and why) he created Amazon, then turned it from a bookseller into ‘the everything store’.
Starting up a business, scaling, winning over competition – this book has it all and there’s a lot of takeaways for any aspiring entrepreneur.
It’s also a great example of a biography meets a detective story.
Rant: The Oral Biography of Buster Casey by Chuck Palahniuk
Super dark and at times morbidly uncomfortable, this book is a whirlwind of interviews with people who knew Rant Casey. In this world, he is the person who wiped out the majority of the population by spreading a new type of rabies. Although fiction, it is an interesting look at how one (evil) person’s actions can change the lives of so many.
What to do when it’s your turn (and it’s always your turn) by Seth Godin
A call-to-action from Seth Godin.
No filler or unnecessary examples, this book is just like his blog – short nuggets of wisdom.
The basic premise is to take turn for action, overcoming fears and accepting failures as a natural part of success in the path of entrepreneurship. Even a non-entrepreneurial employee will find this useful.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
One of the best books on writing.
This book hits right in the feels of anyone who has ever wanted to sit down and just write, A book or a blog, doesn’t matter.
This book provides tips and tricks to start, keep at and edit your writing. The emphasis is on learning to edit and not taking it personally.
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Another incredible book on writing.
This one is more technical and is packed with useful gems such as:
Refining sentences and making them concise
Stylistic approach to underlying messages
Word usage and alternation
Highly recommended for anyone, especially those who don’t consider writing essential in their lives – it’s just that good.
And finally books rated: 10/10:
Interstellar: The Official Movie Novelisation by Greg Keyes
This is Interstellar the movie translated into a book. It does have some information not revealed in the movie which makes it an interesting read if you were a fan of the film.
Overall, the book allows a more expansive view on space exploration than the movie, with variable digestion time and vision. The underlying message remains the same: how far would you go in order to provide hope for others?
Recommended for fans of space travel, exploration and sci-fi nerds.
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Heard of the fiction masterpiece Cloud Atlas?
The Bone Clocks was written by the same author, David Mitchell. In his signature style, this mystery read introduces us to various characters as we jump through time with each new chapter until the full story unravels at the end.
Whilst it may seem like a harmless piece of fiction at first, the story raised my awareness of how impactful every single decision and action in our lives is. The ripple effect can affect many lives. What if you could trace that ripple effect through centuries?
Utopia by Thomas Moore
This book is for you if you have ever questioned the system: its laws, politics, human rights and cultural behavioural settings. It is a philosophical and political read, in a very digestible format.
Utopia is a fictional island, with a completely opposite take on customs and ways to achieve prosperity and maintain society. The book is a narrative between two protagonists, which explains every detail of this utopian society, which you as the reader are left to question having just been faced with a completely alien system.
On Shortness of Life + other essays by Seneca
Seneca by far is my favourite author from the Stoic ‘mafia’.
On the Shortness of Life has had the biggest impact on my life out of all Stoic reads. This was mainly due to the realisation that people tend to rush and panic over minor things but squander their time when it comes to things that really matter. This misuse of time (i.e. one’s own life) leads to what can nowadays be considered the opposite of happiness.
Timeless piece to reevaluate existing modern values, faulty perspectives and to help you become mindful and present, no meditation exercises required.
No Hero: The Evolution of a Navy Seal by Mark Owen
Written by the SEAL team leader who was behind the takedown of Osama Bin Laden and the rescue of Ct. Phillips’ ship.
These are separate stories told in ways that give you actionable takeaways around:
- Extreme leadership
- Principles of managing bulletproof teams
- Overcoming critical stress levels by taking control of the mental game
- How to act in deep spirit and purpose without fear
Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robins
This is a book I re-read yearly.
An absolute essential for anyone who wants to take control of their life, create change and adapt to it, build momentum and achieve self-mastery.
A renowned personal development expert, Tony introduces the reader to timeless principles, which can be applied to any situation in self-improvement; be it overcoming bad habits, taking full control of your life or simply achieving more.
Made in America by Sam Walton
Written in the final years of Sam Walton’s life, this book is a recap of his life’s journey to build the most successful retail franchise in US. Sam describes his unique approach in detail, which led him to become one of the greatest entrepreneurs from recent history.
Even Amazon’s Jeff Bezos reportedly carried this book around in his pocket until it fell apart.
Sam Walton’s story is a rags to riches story with a twist – his attitude to life and success doesn’t change even once he is rich. He’ll still pick up misplaced pennies in the streets.His book is a must-read for anyone looking for an example of a business which scaled very leanly.
The Dip by Seth Godin
A superb short and straight-to-the-point book on ‘cliffs’, ‘dead ends’ and ‘dips’ in all areas of life.
Key takeaway: Quit cliffs and dead-end scenarios in your life. You should instead invest tenfold in those places where you are going through a dip. If you’re not sure whether you’re in a dead-end or dip scenario, Seth explains them well on real-life examples.
A must for any entrepreneur and employee who wants to stop wasting time and progress towards success.
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
From Sanskrit: siddha (achieved) + attha (what was searched for). It is a short story of a man and his journey through life, throughout which he discovers and experiences various spiritual and material-world perspectives.
It is pure gold dust for anyone who wants to understand how simple the complicated life things really are.
Ready to Run by Kelly Starrett
A complete take on mobility to improve your running experience. Kelly lists exact methods for preparing your body for exercise and keeping it mobile, an almost impossible feat in our desk-bound lives in overly cushioned shoes.
This book was a decision maker to keep me working on myo fascia, muscle knot release and mobility. It also inspired me to commit to zero-drop/flat shoes (in training and daily life), to a standing desk and more proven biohacks.
The Rich Employee by James Altucher
Not everyone needs to be entrepreneur in order to “choose themselves”. and do great things. You can be ‘entreployee’ and have bigger success than most of self proclaimed entrepreneurs by hustling whilst focusing on the quality of your ideas and everyday work.
Loved every bit of this book. A definite addition to my yearly re-reads book list.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
A powerful must-read for every entrepreneur. This book is YOUR story in the rising Asia from being born to dying. All written in second person where you are the main character, and in the present tense.
This is not the typical self-help book in any way, nor is it a piece of fiction. Imagine a business book that touches upon fragility of life and the shortcomings YOU will have to face starting a business and aligning it with your love life.
Waking Up by Sam Harris
Sam Harris’ is a unique individual who is not afraid to express his un-mainstream thoughts on morals and life.
‘Waking up’ is his take on the trivialities of religions, consciousness dualism, mind tricks and using meditation to clue in on them. Interestingly, it is written like a mix of neuroscience and (often common-sense) spirituality.
Choose Yourself by James Altucher
Some books give you a kick in the ass and this one is one of them. I liked that it was written in Seth Godin’s style, being straight to the point and very actionable.
It is highly inspirational, relatable because the author shares his vulnerabilities without hesitation, and it’s a must-read for any aspiring entrepreneur.
Slade House by David Mitchell
The only book I ever preordered. David is brilliant at writing fiction and Slade House makes for a great, novice-friendly intro to his writing. Built in the same universe as Cloud Atlas and his other books, Slade House is another immersive hit from the first to the last page.
The key lesson I learned didn’t come from a book
I went into this wanting to read a large amount of books, but I now realise it’s better to read fewer books if that means you can study them properly and implement their lessons in your daily life. Otherwise the time invested into a book may become just as useless as watching TV mindlessly or flipping through a stack of magazines – some facts you might memorise, but most of what you’ve read will be forgotten.
When it comes to reading, less is more.
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