Must-Read Books That Changed My Life

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Books have a way of expanding my mind and putting me in a place where I’m next to my mentors and people I look up to. This is a collection of my absolute favorite books about life and business.I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a person in a certain situation and thought of a book that would be great for them to read. I think we all do this, right? We want to give someone the wisdom we once read in a book, yet it’s difficult because people don’t care nor do they listen most of the time. We influence others sometimes when we aren’t even trying, and the ones we try so desperately to influence can’t seem to soak up all of our infinite wisdom (ha).

I’m a huge reader, and go through at least a few books per month. I read a lot of non fiction, but fiction books enter my life as well. Books have a way of expanding my mind and putting me in a place where I’m next to my mentors and people I look up to. I read to learn, but more than anything I read because I want to be around like-minded people. It’s hard to constantly surround yourself with people who think the same way you do, but when you read, it helps you to not feel alone. You finally feel like somebody understands the struggles you are going through. The right book and the right words from a great author can make all the difference in a person’s life. I really believe that. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t spend so much time writing.

Here are a few of my must-read books that changed my life.

Listen to my top three in this podcast episode:

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Slowing Down to the Speed of Life by Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey

This was a book recommended to me by my friend Garrett. It was a book that I believe is already having great ripples in my life. Slowing Down to the Speed of Life is all about being present in the moment and how to do that. Being present in the moment is a big problem for me. I mean a HUGE problem. I’ve spent so much of my life not being able to sit still, running so fast because I feel like I’m going to miss out on life and I can’t be bored. Somehow I’ve mixed up productiveness and running really fast, thinking they were both the same thing. Reading this book has helped me change that thinking.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

A book for people who search for wisdom. 

I recently read Meditations as a recommendation by Ryan Holliday. I think of it as the non religious version of Proverbs. Marcus Aurelius was alive almost 2,000 years ago, but from this book you could have thought it was written in the last 100 years. It pokes at what it means to live a good life, and to be honest Marcus talks a lot about death in this book. But he talks about death in a way that helps you to have more urgency for the present. I’m reading through this book again right now because it really does help you to think below the surface. In a world driven by caring about what other people think, Marcus challenges readers to recognize that our time here on this Earth is limited, and before long people will always forget about you. The morale of his words are to not worry or stress about what people think, but do what is natural and what is good for your community and the world. Beautiful, beautiful words.

Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holliday

This is a book that challenges me and pushes me in the self-awareness category. Ryan has become one of my favorite authors through his books—Ego is the Enemy, Obstacle is the Way, and his newest—Perennial Seller.

Ego is the enemy is about being realistic about your own skills and motives while working towards any goal. Ryan talks about how easy it is for us to blindly pursue more and more, without acknowledging if it is what is in our best interest.

He talks about generals of our army who have turned down promotions because they were realistic about their own skill levels, instead of ambitiously pursuing a higher status. This book resonates with me because I tend to care a lot about what people say and think of me (too much and I’m working on it), so sometimes I get lost in the appearance of what I’m doing instead of the substance.

For instance, you guys haven’t heard me talk that much about CampgroundBooking lately because it hasn’t been at the forefront of projects I’m currently working on. I don’t want to be a guy who talks about all the things he’s doing — I just want to do them and share what I learn along the way (that can be helpful to others).

Ego is the Enemy is a great book to read if you value self-awareness. Ryan makes the case that ego is what ultimately holds us back from achieving our potential. Ego craves recognition for things we haven’t done yet, pushes us to pursue multiple things at once (even if those things don’t align with our goals), and clouds our judgment.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

The life of Teddy Roosevelt reads like a good story book, except it’s all true. Before stepping in the White House, Teddy started a cattle ranch out in the Dakotas, lead a regiment of men to war (and won), and single-handedly fought against machine-like politics at the turn of the century. He battled against tons of illnesses as a kid, some that easily could have killed him, but conquered them and became this strong, bulky guy who hung out with cowboys in the west.

I get the best of all worlds in a book like this. I get the amazing story, the life lessons, and the insight of seeing through the lens of someone like Teddy. In this book you also get to see how a family can enrich the life of their children through travel and having the freedom to do so.

Just seeing how often he reads and the way he lives his life is invigorating. I want to be like Teddy in the way that he aggressively tackles the day and things he believes in. This kind of vigor to live a meaningful life. I waste so much time on things that don’t really matter (i.e social media) and only produce a fraction of the work I would like to. Reading this books helps me fight complacency.

Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris

A call to action for young people to step up and do great things.

Do Hard Things was a book that greatly influenced me because of timing. I read it after losing my grandfather and uncle while in college. It was written by two nineteen-year-olds who talked about not wasting the earlier years on your life and instead to step up and do awesome stuff. I picked it up a week or two into the freshman year of college and it really was a catalyst for my entrepreneurial journey and frame of mind. I gave up a lot of childish ambitions and started focusing on building my life around something meaningful and worthwhile.

It was the first book I had really picked up since middle school, and it sent me down a path of becoming an avid reader. I started reading books about entrepreneurship, and before long I had started my first business in college. It’s a great read for people in an earlier stage of their life who are wanting to step out of the norm, and ultimately, do hard things.

“Unfortunately we often get praise for things that weren’t particularly difficult to achieve. If we focus on the props and encouragement of those who have low expectations for us, we become mediocre. It can be challenging to set our sights on excellence, particularly when we’re hearing that we’re already there. One of life’s greatest lessons, which we all must learn, could be expressed in the phrase “That was nothing. Watch this.” Challenge yourself and others to call the normal things normal and save that word excellent for things that really are.”

On the Shortness of Life

This is one of three books I’ve picked up in the past year on stoicism. I got interested in stoic philosophy after reading The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holliday. Last year I read a book called Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and since I’ve reread it about five times. On The Shortness of Life is a book on exactly what it sounds like, the shortness of life. Here is one of my favorite quotes. “It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.” It’s a great reminder to not throw away life’s most precious commodity– time.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Even if this book wasn’t on the top of my list, I would feel obliged to list it on here because of how long it took me to finish it (year and a half).

I love this book because it makes me think about what it means to be a man of action, not dependent on others or looking for hand outs, but to know that I am able to create anything I wish. It challenged me to realize I can create something out of nothing and make a work of art, without the permission of anyone else.

Atlas Shrugged also challenged me to not escape reality, but to see things as they are. It challenged my faith and a lot of other things, but it’s definitely a book I would recommend. It’s a fictional book about industrialists who have built hugely successful companies but are being torn apart and regulated by the government. Definitely an interesting perspective on business.

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin

I’m a HUGE Seth Godin fan. His books always inspire me to do the work that matters. In Linchpin he talks about the “lizard brain” and how it tries to keep us from doing our best work. Linchpin is a great reminder to just ship work and do my thing, regardless of how it looks or feels. Just do the work that needs to be done. Don’t worry about what people think about people think or say. The best thing about Seth Godin is that he lives out what he preaches. Every day for the past ten years the guy sends out a daily blog. Crazy dedication.

The Bible

A book for people who need saving.

As a Christian, I almost feel obliged to say The Bible. However, it really has made a huge impact in my life. The two books that have made the most difference are Proverbs and Matthew, where Jesus preaches wisdom. Proverbs is a book written by King Solomon, son of David, who one day asked God for wisdom to make good decisions. (As opposed to most kings, who might ask for more power or more wealth or favor). This pleased God, and to this day Solomon is revered as one of the wisest men to ever live, even outside of Christian culture. He talks a lot about death and challenges you to not be an idiot. He tells you to seek wisdom and truth at all costs. If you read Proverbs with an open mind you will be smarter.

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.”

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

A book that will help you to realize your dreams and overcome any obstacles in your path.

The first time I read The Alchemist it took me two and a half hours sitting cross-legged in the corner of a room. I was twenty-one years old and I had never read anything like it. The author talked about journeys and how when you pursue something with all of your heart, the world helps you to achieve it. The story is a fiction tale of a young, traveling shepherd who has a reoccurring dream about finding treasure. He then devotes his life to finding the treasure and over the course of the book, encounters people and situations that provide him with wisdom, truth, and even hardship. If you’re someone who’s looking for inspiration to chase a big dream, please, read this book. You will probably be hanging quotes up on your wall. It’s that kind of book.

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

A book about how to live a meaningful story with your life.

I started dating a girl and six days later I asked her what her favorite book was. She handed me A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. I read it on my way up to Colorado, to go skiing with my family. I finished it a few days later at the lodge and I’m not sure if it was the majestic mountains or the beautiful snow, but it really made me think hard about the life I was living.

For reference, Donald Miller is an author who wrote a book several years ago that was being converted into a movie. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years was a book he wrote during the editing process of making the movie with two directors. The book’s subtitle is “What I learned while editing my life.” (Love that!)

In the book the directors basically told Donald that he lived a boring life. At first it insulted Don, but then he realized they were kind of right. It set Don off on a real world pursuit to figure out what makes a great story in the real world. How do we live a meaningful story? In a movie, a great story is defined as a character who wants something and overcomes conflict in order to get it. Donald Miller applies this principle in this book and challenges readers to figure out how to live an intentional life.

Side note:

After reading half way, I closed the book and called up my then-girlfriend on the phone. I used quotes from the book to convince her that she should take off of work for a week in order to come skiing with my family and I. “I know we have only been dating six days,” I said. “But Donald Miller says risk is a big part of living a great story with our life.” I used her favorite book against her, and it worked. She flew up to Colorado in a blizzard that night, we picked her up from the airport, and now she’s my wife.

“If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. If I got any comfort as I set out on my first story, it was that in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just condensed version of life then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another.”

The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin

A book for artists (that’s you, you just don’t know it yet) who want to create meaningful work

I told you I’m a big Seth Godin fan!

The Icarus Deception author Seth Godin always writes gold, and this book is no different. It’s a book that will light a fire under any artist or creatives’ butt. The book refers to an old fable where a father, Daedalus, told his son, Icarus, not to fly too high to the sun, or he the wax on his wings would melt. Seth talks about how this is the story we are told constantly in school, not to have an ego and attempt to fly too high.

However, people leave out the part of the story where the father also tells his son not to fly his chariot too low to the sea or the mist will wash away the wax and he will fall into the water. This is the deception. We are so focused on not flying too high, that we forget that shooting too low in life is just as dangerous.

In this book Seth challenges readers to do meaningful work and not to be another cog in the machine. You can pick the book up at any point and read for a chapter and put it down. The way Seth writes, you don’t have to read from start to finish. Every word and chapter has meaningful and value. It’s easier to underline the parts of Seth’s books that don’t influence me (the pages are covered in ink from highlighting sections and quotes or even writing annotation like “YES! Yes! This is awesome!”).

“It’s what we wrestle with every single day. The intersection of comfort, danger, and safety. The balancing act between vulnerability and shame. The opportunity (or the risk) to do art. The willingness to take responsibility for caring enough to make a difference and to have a point of view.”

The One Thing by Gary Keller

A book for people who struggle with picking just one thing they want to do with their life (AKA me).

I’m always juggling multiple items, and I probably always will have that tendency. However, in The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, Gary shows the power of concentrating your energy on less and how it leads to doing more. I don’t know if I ever will be able to do only one thing in any area of my life, but it has certainly empowered me to not take on near as many projects.

“Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls– family, health, friends, integrity– are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.”

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie

A book for anyone who has ever felt stress.

I read How to Stop Worrying and Start Living at a time where I had never been more stressed in my life. I had taken on too many projects, and couldn’t keep up with all of them anymore. Waking up in the morning to check my overflowing email, I reached a breaking point. I took a short vacation out to the west coast and spent some time pondering life. (AKA I threw caution to the wind, hopped in my car, and drove until I hit the beach).

I found this book for free on YouTube and started listening to it one morning. We read How to Win Friends & Influence People in college, so I knew who Dale Carnegie was. I started listening and couldn’t stop. The audio version is about 10 hours long, but for the next six months I listened to it on my 45 minute commute every single morning. It probably was a huge factor in completing my 28 hour finale semester in college. I constantly use his principles to apply to situations when I am feeling stressed or overwhelmed with what the future holds. He makes it so simple that any one can pick up and instantly apply his teachings to their life.

“You can sing only what you are. You can paint only what you are. You must be what your experiences, your environment, and your heredity have made you. For better or for worse, you must play your own little instrument in the orchestra of life.”

What books have influenced you and why? I would love to know and possibly add them to my own list.

My Kindle Library:Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 8.40.28 AM


12 Responses

  • Great recommendations. I’ve ready 1,2, and 4, and you’ve convinced me to pick up the rest of them in the near future. 🙂 If I were to add my own life-changing books, “The Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne would be at the top.

  • Consider me inspired. I feel like a better person for just having read the list! Off to get a copy of “The One Thing.” Lord knows I could always stand to find a little more focus in life.

    One book that I have read several times and always enjoy: The Celestine Prophecy. My copy looks a lot like my favorite old sweater…a little worn, but definately loved.

    • The one thing was great Carrie! I actually don’t have it any more because I gave it to a friend (that’s what you do with good books, right?). Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Hi Heath & Alyssa,

    On the verge of starting the 27th year of our very happy and loving marriage, we would like to recommend ‘The Five Love Languages’ by Gary Chapman. It will add greater understanding of yourselves and more importantly each other.



    Jason & Rose

    • Jason! T

      Thanks for the recommendation. While we haven’t read The Five Love Languages we’re both very familiar with what the love languages are. Alyssa’s is acts of service and mine is quality time. Thanks for the thought and reminder that we need to read that one!



  • […] 20 books: Last year I read 12 books. I’m upping the pace this year to 20 with the hope that I can gradually keep increasing this […]

  • I am so inspired by this post! I’m a freshman in college and I’ve been struggling with how to live a meaningful and purpose driven life. I used to read all the time but have fallen out of that habit. I really want to start doing so again because I feel like it gives life more meaning. I love the connection that reading can bring to us as people. One book that I suggest is called “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown. She is an incredible author and her words have already started to make a big difference in my life. You should definitely check it out!

    Best wishes,

    • I love Brene Brown, great suggestion Katelyn! Thanks for reading. 🙂

  • Great post!! I have read 3 of those books, and i love the celestine prophecy, but I would have to ask you, what book will you recommend a person who has lost his soul, who is lost, literally alone and has no expectations for live. I know that’s horrible, but that’s how a person I care about is right now… and Im trying to find a book to help him going trough this.
    Thanks in advance!

    • Definitely A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. It’s a great one for making you think differently about how to approach life

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