I could not tell you specific passages or quotes from books. At some deep level, you absorb them, and they become threads in the tapestry of your psyche. They kind of weave in there...
― Naval Ravikant
I take pleasure from the fact that I can enjoy books whenever it pleases me to do so. Books are, I find the best provisions a man can take with him on life’s journey.
— Michel de Montaigne
I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
The adventure of our life is to become who we are, by learning who we are. This book highlights the stories of some of the greatest geniuses in history, as well as much lesser-known leaders who paved the way in their respective fields by adhering to the voice of their heart above all else. It’s brought me peace of mind, courage, and tremendous inspiration regarding finding my path in life.
What I love about this book on creativity is how it focuses on creating for creating’s sake. To create is to live a more passionate, meaningful life. We lament if our passions don’t make us money, if we’re never noticed, if they’re hard. In reality, if what we love turns into a career, we’re one of the lucky ones. But if it doesn’t, creating still without a doubt enriches our lives. Be playful. Be curious. And see what life can be when you tap into that big magic of art.
Entrepreneur Naval Ravikant poses the question to highly successful people: If you think you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?
His work focuses on finding a balance between success, peace, joy, love.
Ravikant doesn’t do many public appearances, podcasts, etc. Because of this, author Eric Jorgenson took it upon himself to compile Ravikant’s most powerful tweets, quotes from appearances and essays, to create this powerful book.
Like the moon, Tiny beautiful Things glows as a welcoming light amidst the darkness of our human experience. At least what we perceive as our darkness—our night. But the darkness connects us; not the us, which is clean and polished and grinding at the 9-5. But the us which we grapple with, wrestle in our dreams. In the darkness we seek the light, and it’s always there shining if we just look up.
This book is about everyday people asking for help. It illuminates how alike we all are, how to share compassion for others, how to be easier on ourselves. This book took me time to get into, but “Sugar,” as the author’s known, is straightforward, open and thorough. There’s some damn good advice in here.
Profound and pithy, these letters from one of history’s greatest minds bring peace and much to ponder; whether in the background while cooking, before bed or on a walk.
Stoicism serves as a beautiful, everyday guide.
Get your philosophy on with this classic.
Boyd Varty is a South African lion tracker and life coach who I first heard on the Aubrey Marcus Podcast. His story and perspective on life, meaning, and the innate wild self truly inspired me on the podcast. This book is short and sweet and had me tearing up as I turned the final page. It’s a story which will ask you to dig deep and chart your own path.
This philosophical classic discusses the two modes of existence which make up our modern world—the having mode and the being mode. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I consider what I truly want out of life.
“While having is based on something that is diminished by use,” writes Fromm, “being grows by practice. The powers of reason, of love, of artistic and intellectual creation, all essential powers, grow through the process of being expressed. What is spent is not lost. But on the contrary. What is kept is lost; the only threat to my security in being lies in myself. In the lack of faith in life, and in my productive powers.”
The lessons from this book are profound, simply stated, and beautifully conveyed. This is an incredibly powerful book on finances and prosperity, but it’s much, much more. The author incorporates a variety of quotes throughout the book from historical figures, which I love.
“The moral is clear as I look back
At these lessons, now that I’m of age.
That the book of one’s life is determined
By the courage contained in each page.”
This book is known as a real firecracker in the self-help domain; some people love it, some, not so much. Jay’s advice should be taken with a grain of salt, as it can easily amplify the anxiety and pressure twentysomethings feel regarding what to do with our lives. But it’s also an inspiring wake up call with a lot of value, as Jay uses anecdotes from her psychology practice with twentysomethings to show perhaps what we should, and shouldn’t be doing at this critical point of our lives.
I do love books about the history of life—how we’ve arrived here and where we may go. This book, by the evolutionary biologist power couple, Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein, who also host the Darkhorse Podcast, provides a fascinating account of how the world is changing, perhaps too quickly for our own good. It’s impossible to keep up with this rapid change; when in doubt, get back to being human. This book provides an illuminating guide on how to do so.
If you’re a writer you’ve probably heard of Bird by Bird, or you’ve read it yourself. It’s a wonderfully funny book that explores the writing craft. Yet I believe it pertains to anybody interested in unlocking the stories we all possess within us.
This one’s a short, amusing, and inspiring self-help book. There’s only so much we can give a f*ck about. We must focus on what truly matters.
“Real artists ship,” Steve Jobs famously said. To ship is to get your work out there. It’s pressing submit. Publish. Post. Shipping is the enemy of perfection.
This book inspires me to do the work when I don’t want to and to get my voice out there by cultivating a practice that can be honed and relied upon when all else fails. It’s not about you. It’s about who you will inspire by shipping.
I believe the ancient philosophy of stoicism can help us lead happier, simpler, more fulfilling lives in our modern age.
This book does a wonderful job of outlining the main players and their teachings: Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus. It also includes many other notable characters throughout history not known specifically as stoics, but who employed stoic principles in their daily lives and writings.
This book should be required reading for every human being. Dr. Viktor Frankl not only outlasted the horrific conditions of the WWII Nazi death camps; he did so with his spirit intact.
He turned his horrific condition into a lesson — no matter what happens in life, human beings may choose to see the world as good, meaningful, and full of light, even in the darkest of times.
Ryan Holiday is one of my favorite authors and guru of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism. Courage Is Calling is the first book of “The Stoic Virtues” series, the Stoic virtues being: courage, temperance, wisdom, and justice.
This book shines light on those brave souls who, throughout history, answered the call for courage: the courage to see the good no matter the circumstance; the courage to look within to find the light in the darkest of times; the courage to pave their own way; the courage to speak up, to fight, to surrender. A meaningful life is courageous. This book is incredibly motivating.
The second book in the “Stoic Virtue” series is not a sexy theme, but a vital one: temperance. Moderation. Self-control. Drive and urgency, coupled with pace and longevity. To go the distance, we have to know why we’re doing what we’re doing in the first place. We have to lace up the shoes, sit at the computer, make the call, take our shot, day after day after day. A life of dedication is a meaningful one.
This book fires me up, as its central theme is to seek not what’s expedient: overnight success, the rise to the top, fame and recognition. It advocates a steady, slow climb, rife with introspection, patience, watching, living, instead of showing.
This book will make you reconsider what we’re really doing here on this spinning rock. Are we meant to dread our work, what we fill most of our time doing? Are we meant to fear one another, nature, progress?
Or is there another way, a world full of connection, genuine connection; full of hope felt by every individual, full of beauty. I believe there is. Charles Eisenstein lays out a captivating case for a more beautiful world which, deep within our hearts, we all know is possible.
I loved this book. Every one of us is an artist, and Godin dissects how we all have something powerful to give to the world.
“Admire the world for never ending on you — as you would admire an opponent, without taking your eyes from him, or walking away,” writes Annie Dillard in this classic. No matter what, the world won’t end on you. We mustn’t give up on it.
This classic by Steven Pressfield gave a name to that feeling which stops us from following our dreams, from raising our hand, from asking that guy or girl out or pressing publish on that blog post.
Resistance. It takes many shapes and many forms, but it has one goal — to keep us safe, secure, stuck where we are, comfortable. This book wages war on Resistance, and inspires us to do the same.
I listened to this book and it was a short listen, but it rocked me to my core. If you want to do something creative; if you’re looking to get the best out of yourself; if you’re struggling to commit to what’s in your heart and soul, give this book a read.
Pressfield’s style is quirky and incredibly inspiring. It’s proven to me that I’m on the right track, not because of what result may come, but because I’m striving to live a life where everyday, I’m learning about who I am.
This classic by Brenda Ueland is one of my favorite books on writing and creativity. “The true self is always in motion,” Ueland says, “like music, a river of life, changing, moving, failing, suffering, learning, shining.”
We grow every day based on the conditions around us. But as Ueland says, our true self isn’t something that’s fastened in place. Our true self is like a river, fluid, constantly evolving to meet our circumstances. This book is whimsical, and teeming with inspiring quotes and story’s from history’s literary greats.
Lakhiani is the founder of Mindvalley, the world’s leading personal development company. This book is full of so many profound lessons about changing the modern paradigm of what success really means. If you’re curious about bringing more joy, more spirituality, and more fulfillment into whatever work you do, I highly suggest it.
“Your soul isn’t here to achieve,” Lakhiani writes. “Your soul is here to grow. Most people get this wrong. They become seduced by success and broken by failure. They add great meaning to what is essentially meaningless. The true reality is that success and failure are illusions. The only thing that matters is how fast you’re evolving. Your journey is about removing all the barriers that hold you back from self-actualization.”
Jay Shetty is somebody I greatly look up to, as he’s a content creator who focuses on making wisdom and love go viral. Shetty lived in a monastery for three years. After that time, his mentor told him he’d better serve humanity by going back into the world and sharing what he’s learned.
This book is full of inspiring lessons about harnessing ancient practices to use in the modern world.
Zen in the Art of Writing is probably my favorite book on writing. I didn’t know much about Ray Bradbury before reading this book. I actually bought it thinking the author was Kurt Vonnegut (classic mixup). I think this had something to do with mixing up Fahrenheit 451 and Slaughterhouse-Five (I think it was the five). Anyway, I’m so glad I did.
This book inspired me to continue on my path as a writer. Bradbury lived with zest in his soul and an aptitude to create from a place of love. When reading this book I found it impossible to be in a bad mood. Bradbury’s energy is magnetic. He makes writing simple. Do it because you love it.
My story, The Only Way Out, Is In, highlights the book’s central theme, that joy comes only from within us. When we’re joyful, the world becomes an expression of our joyfulness. If you’re interested in this concept I’d definitely recommend the book.
This book focuses on the art of careful and thoughtful reading. As a writer, this is an invaluable skill. Prose made me realize that every word is there for a reason. Sometimes it’s our job and an adventure on its own to figure out what that is.
Jedidiah Jenkins tells his actual story of biking for over a year from Oregon to Patagonia, while grappling with his religious upbringing and his sexuality.
The writing is clean and exciting; the story is captivating, and the concepts he discusses struck a serious chord with me, as I too grapple with what I believe in terms of religion and something greater.
The book tells the tale of a father and his son riding a motorcycle through interior America — yet sustaining the story is a tantalizing concoction of meaning.
Pirsig brews this foamy philosophical beverage with deep introspection, strange plot twists, and a first-person interpretation of the mountains, the plains, the sky, and the small, antiquated western towns.
A beautiful thing about books is that sometimes, it isn’t so much about the contents of the book that makes it memorable. You think of the book and you think of a time, a place, the person you were when you read it.
Back when I worked at a clothing store in my hometown of Malibu, CA, my store manager bought and gave me this book before a trip to Europe. She knew I was an aspiring writer and that I love to travel. When I think of this book, I think of where this all began.
Orwell is one of history’s most influential writers because of his willingness to put himself in the heat of the story. In this 1933 tale, Orwell studies the absolute poverty of two of Europe’s greatest cities, London and Paris.
The larger-than-life 20th-century writer Ernest Hemingway established several personas. There’s The Old Man and the Sea Hemingway, who stands beside a monolithic fish with a scruffy grey beard. There’s the rough and tumble Hemingway of the Spanish Civil War. Then there’s the classy, 1920s Paris Hemingway, who rubbed shoulders with artistic titans such as James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertruid Stein. A Moveable Feast tells of Hemingway’s life in the 1920s as a young writer and journalist fighting to make it in a dog eat dog artistic world.
In Iberia, legendary James A. Michener’s devotion to uncovering the true character of Spain bleeds from the words on the page. He doesn’t just want to explore Spain by seeing the major cities and eating at the best restaurants; he goes out of his way, where nobody would likely consider going, to provide a thorough analysis and a captivating story about what makes Spain, Spain.
This book dramatically enhanced the way I see the writing profession, and life. Michener was an incredibly unique and prolific writer of the 20th-century who wrote many books based on a location, such as Hawaii, South Africa, Alaska, Spain, and Israel.
He weaves a tale of that place through many chapters, tellings its history from thousands of years ago until the modern-day. It blew me away to learn about his young adult life in the Navy and how he became so enthralled with traveling the globe.
As a bonus, I recommend The Source, his epic book based on Israel.
A peaceful read, written by one of America’s greats, Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau’s profound love and examination of nature at friend and fellow transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Walden Pond made me strongly consider what’s essential in my life. Nature is at the top of that list; this book played a significant role in its becoming so vital. As is simplicity, early mornings, the feeling of the cold. I found Walden at a used bookstore in Osaka, Japan, a month after I’d moved there. It felt like the book found me, for it was exactly the book I needed at that time of my life: tell your story, it compels. Enjoy the simple life, it encourages.
I’ve read The Pilgrimage several times over the years. Each time, Coelho’s mystifying writing style captivates and inspires me to stop, look around, and seek meaning from the simplest acts.
My dream is to one day hike the Camino de Santiago like Paulo Coelho does in the book. The journey takes Coelho from Southwest France to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great, in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. This is the story of a walk — imbued with history, a connection with nature, and the enrichment of one’s spirit.
I love books that blend history, geography, and adventure. Shark Drunk tells the tale of two buddies who set out on a fishing expedition in the fjords of Norway to catch the legendary and fabled Greenland Shark. Underneath the journey radiates a story of meaning, philosophy, life, friendship and beauty. This is a fun travel story, and a worthy, thought-provoking read to make you stop and look around, no matter the time of year.
This book of essays from the legendary writer and activist James Baldwin provides a fascinating insight into the culture of 20th-century America. His words are sincere. They come from a place of profound love and a hope for change.
A couple years ago I read The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant and really enjoyed it.So when I saw The Story of Philosophy in an Osaka bookstore, I figured it would provide the same concoction of readability, wit, storytelling and fascinating insight, and it didn’t let me down.
If you’re interested in philosophy and history, I highly suggest these two books to get acquainted with the main players and eras. I love this one, as it provides a beautiful overview of the time period in which each philosophy arose, giving context from era to era.
A collection of profound, light-hearted, thought-provoking journal entries by the 19th-century transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson. I’ve kept this as a Kindle edition book so I may read it on my phone, when, on the train, or with a few minutes when I’d otherwise be scrolling Instagram. This book has brought tears to my eyes, love to my heart, and freedom to my spirit.
This book combines some of my favorite topics: travel, spirituality and history. Give this classic a try for a captivating read. I love the way it explores the similarities between all religions, what we might think of as universal truths. In the end, it’s all about love.
This book played a major role in writing my first book, Arrows of Youth. I have a newfound respect for McConaughey after reading his story. It’s a fun one that’s creatively told; more than that, the book itself is a work of art, with poetry, pictures, and a delightful layout.
History shows that we’ve been through unimaginable times as individuals, as nations, and as a planet. There’s always something to learn to apply to our own lives. When you think of George Washington, you probably think of a brittle older fellow posing for a profile portrait with wooden teeth, powdered hair, that whole deal. Yet after listening to this stellar biography of Washington, I feel like I have a very different perspective of who he was: a passionate general; a determined president, an imperfect yet exemplary human being.
A book of essays gives us a quilt of topics, weaved together with the unique voice of the writer. Virginia Woolf writes about many of my favorite themes: Michel de Montaigne, history, travel, and writing itself, in a whimsical, simple, and beautifully pithy style. I bought this book after reading that Hemingway kept it on his writing desk.
The diary of Anne Frank might be required reading in high school; it should be required to be human. Reading it again reminded me just how good life is. None of our worries could come close to what this girl and countless others had to endure during WWII. Yet, Anne Frank somehow retained her love for life. That is true courage.
I am passionate about discovering how we can lead more connected, compassionate, and meaningful lives. This book, the first of Peterson’s, explores in incredible depth the stories throughout time which make us see the world in a certain way. As a clinical psychologist, Peterson’s books, podcast, and YouTube lectures have provided me with joy and deep introspection. He explores what it means to be human, why we do what we do, and how we may get the very best out of ourselves so we might use our gifts to make the world a more meaningful place to live.
Jordan Peterson, perhaps more than anybody else, has been a teacher to me in my twenties. This book caused me to think about life, religion, responsibility, relationships, psychology, and history in new and endlessly fascinating ways. I believe anybody could benefit from reading this book.
Peterson’s practical advice is imbued with ancient stories and myths that I find incredibly compelling. This book serves as a blueprint to get one’s life in order and become the hero of their own story.
This series gave me the courage and insight to be a writer. Karl Ove Knausgaard tells the story of his seemingly normal life in Norway for around 3,600 pages. I was hooked the entire way. The series showed me that no day, no moment, no life is bereft of meaning; we just have to do a little digging to uncover what it is.
Knausgaard, one of my favorite contemporary authors, writes to describe the world to his unborn daughter. He paints the picture of trivial things in such detail, instilled with such meaning, that he makes me consider the essence underlying all that we do, see, have. Nothing is trivial about this world. This is the first of a four part Seasons Quartet.
These books by Israeli historian and author Yuval Noah Harari are enriching to read multiple times for an overview of who we are as human beings, where we come from, and where we might go in the next phase of our existence. Homo Deus is my favorite of the three.
I’ve read this one multiple times, as it’s always a refreshing source of inspiration. Leonardo da Vinci was just a man. Yet he was insatiably curious about how the world works.
His life inspires me to be curious about everything from how a river eddy works to the construction of muscles in the human body. His inquisitive attitude towards the world is evident in his most famous art, such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.
Franklin valued pragmatism above all else. He is one of the most intriguing characters in history; a writer, inventor, scientist, and diplomat. Like Leonardo da Vinci, he too was insatiably interested in others and how the world works.
Perhaps unlike many of America’s Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin seems like a guy you could share an ale with at the local watering hole. No matter who you were, he’d be interested in your story.
For some more modern history, this book tells the tale of six friends who from behind the scenes made the decisions that practically shaped the 20th-century and the outcome of the Cold War.
The World of Yesterday is one of my favorite books by 20th-century author Stefan Zweig. If you’re interested in pre-WWI Europe and how our modern states came to be, then this is a fascinating story.
Stefan Zweig paints a fascinating picture of the Renaissance humanist, Erasmus of Rotterdam. Erasmus was born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands around the year 1466. What I find so interesting about this character was his dedication to the quest for knowledge. He played a vital role in a pivotal point in human history, when Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Revolution and incited the battle against Catholicism in 1517. Like Michel de Montaigne, Erasmus was a man who throughout his life, did whatever he could to remain utterly independent. He answered to nobody against his will, irrespective of the circumstances taking place around him. You can read more about Erasmus in my article: Must We Always Pick a Side?
Michel de Montaigne was a 16th-century philosopher and diplomat who wrote in a style which made the essay famous. Not the dreaded five-paragraph essay. The essay’s original intent, as Montaigne exemplified, was a means of exploration on the page. Start with an idea, and see where it leads.
Montaigne was a lover of travel, of people, of friendship; he endured the French Religious Wars and still retained hope. That should inspire us four-hundred years later. The man wanted to know what it means to be alive.
As far as self-help goes, this one taught me not to always trust my thoughts. Rather, allow them to come and go like cars on the highway. Michael Singer tells the story of how he surrendered to life after not being able to quiet the voice in his head. His surrender experiment takes him on a journey like no other. This book is a useful reminder for anybody looking to let go, and thus, reclaim their peace of mind.
Author Dan Buettner travels to the Blue Zones of the world, such as Ikaria Greece and Okinawa Japan, to learn about the secrets of the centenarians, the world’s oldest living people. Being healthy isn’t as difficult as we sometimes make it. Health means much more than just how we look or the number on the scale.
Shoe Dog is an inspiring memoir by the founder of Nike, Phil Knight. Nike is known as one of the most prominent global brands. I devoured this book and found Knight’s stories totally captivating, from Nike’s conception to where it fits in our modern-day.
This book is significant to me. Bourdain’s love of adventure and all kinds of food made him my childhood hero. I read this book on my first trip to Japan. I strive to honor him by following my dream of exploring the world with a full heart and by being grateful for everyday, every second, and every experience of this gift we call life.
With Bourdain in mind as I travel, there are no setbacks, only experiences; no bad meals, only the next one; and no time wasted if spent watching the world unfold from morning until night, when a city truly comes alive. His spirit continues to shine through his words just as much now as they did back in 2000 when the book was released and sent controversial waves through the culinary world.
The Stoic philosopher Seneca lived during the same time as Jesus and was the tutor to one of the most notorious Roman emperors, Nero. This biography of the great philosopher tells of his struggle to find inner peace while working closely to a tyrant. There’s much to be learned from this book, particularly finding peace within when life seems totally insane.
The Name of the Wind and its sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear, are two of my favorite fantasy books of all time. Patrick Rothfuss spins a captivating first-person narrative as Kvothe, arguably the most interesting man of all time (fantasy edition).
These books are bit more realistic than The Lord of the Rings or Eragon, as in more medieval than otherworldly, but full of magic, mystery, and beautiful writing. It’ll make you want to skip down a cobblestone street chasing a gale of wind, lose yourself in the dusty archives of your nearest bookstore, or watch the moon descend beyond the horizon from the darkness of a rooftop.
This book illustrates the tensions in post WWII Japan between transitioning into a new age, and clinging to the past. The writing is clear and beautiful and the story is deeper than I can understand after my first read. I’m captivated by the main character’s reflections on his time as an artist; he had the courage to stand for something, an idea, although perhaps one he regrets; this can teach us about humility and pride and moving on. I’ll definitely need to revisit this story. It accompanied me throughout an insightful weekend in Japan. The writing asks me to think, write, and reflect poetically and with zeal.
I love reading fiction that takes me to a different universe. That’s why I read fiction: sometimes, I want an escape, and an entertaining one at that. This book consumed my free time for a week straight; reading about this futuristic, dystopian video game world made me feel like a kid. The story is wonderfully written and isn’t just for kids, but rather, anyone looking to fall in love with life and this real world in which we inhabit.
This is a philosophical story of Siddhartha, the Buddha of ancient India. There are some tremendously insightful philosophical lessons in this book. It’s a relatively short and easy read.
Set in a strange Japanese world, Murakami creates a parallel universe with twists, turns, and fascinating characters. This book is a saga, so if you’re into deep world building and a long, drawn out and detailed storyline, I recommend giving this a go.
I love books from the turn of the century. This book was published in 1915 and tells the timeless tale of a young man striving to find his way in an often unforgiving world.
As I’ve said elsewhere, often what means the most to me is not so much the contents of the book, as who or where I was when I read it. Inferno—the equivalent of The Da Vinci Code set in Paris—tells a mysterious, dark, history-rich tale set in Florence, Italy. I bought this one from a bookstore while studying in Florence. It holds a special place in my young, fiery heart.
When asked by Tim Ferris on The Tim Ferris Podcast what three books he would give to a recent college grad, Walter Isaacson said:
“The Odyssey is a particularly important one because I think life is an odyssey. Especially as you’re young and you’re coming out of college, you’ve got to travel. You’ve got to get on the road. You’ve got to connect with different types of people and have adventures.”
The Odyssey is one of the oldest stories of all time. It baffles me how I can read what Homer was writing or perhaps sharing as an oral tradition around 2,700 years ago. This is the classic hero’s journey — a tale of adventure, heroism, a battle with a cyclops, and much mead.
The Roman poet Virgil immortalized the founding of Rome with his epic poem, The Aeneid. Like Homer’s The Odyssey, this is a mythical and ancient story of riding the high seas, spirited conversations between the gods, and historical context throughout.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, one of, if not the writer who’s influenced me the most, inspired me immensely with his My Struggle series. This book of fiction recreates Bible stories such as Cain and Abel and Noah’s Arc in a descriptive, captivating writing style which absolutely blew me away.
When I think of Dickens, I think of A Christmas Carol—cold, industrial Britain. Dickens was a storyteller of all sorts; he portrayed what he saw in reality and intertwined his day, the 1800s, with his imagination. He invites the reader to sit down and have a chat with him, to get to know his characters through his words and the world in which he lived. He wrote A Tale of Two Cities about the French Revolution as a commentary on his own time, 1850s Britain, when he and many others worried about revolution.
This is the first book I’ve read by Steinbeck, and it immediately became one of my favorite books. Steinbeck portrays the harsh living conditions of California in the early 1900s.
The story speaks to who we are as human beings and the constant tensions we face between good and evil, right and wrong, hiding in the dark or seeking the light. I wrote about the book and driving through where it takes place in this story.
War and Peace is a classic of Russian literature told by one of the greatest storytellers of all time, Leo Tolstoy. The Napoleonic Wars are riveting, and the scene between Napoleon and Prince Andrei on the battlefield is one of my favorite episodes in all of literature. I wrote about the scene in this story.
Fernando Pessoa was an early 20th-century Portuguese writer known for his melancholic, abstract, contemplative style. He’s quite the fascinating fella. He had what he called heteronyms, characters he created and wrote under; characters with entire, intricate backstories and styles. The Book of Disquiet was “written” from the point of view of the assistant bookkeeper from Lisbon, Bernardo Soares. It’s written almost like journal entries, yet the way Pessoa describes Lisbon is so beautiful.
This might be my favorite book of all time. It taught me about the wonder of world-building. James Clavell starts with details and allows them to blossom into a vast world that breathes with every turn of the page.
John Blackthorne, an English pilot on a Dutch ship, washes ashore 1600s Japan. He reluctantly learns to adopt the ways of these foreigners with the help of Lord Toranaga, a daimyo eager to become Shogun, the ruler of Japan.
The story is utterly beautiful, intricate, detailed — an exceptional journey through ancient Japan which has left a lasting impression on my heart and soul.
Tai-Pan, the second of James Clavell’s Asian Saga after Shogun, is nearly as good as the first. This one follows the same family line as that from Shogun. Yet instead of Japan, Tai Pan takes the reader to the founding of Hong Kong in the 1800s.
If you haven’t read this banger from the man the myth the legend Ernest Hemingway, I highly suggest giving it a go. The man had his inner demons—who doesn’t.
Perhaps this story can help us understand why. Hemingway paints a brilliant picture of an incomprehensible time in history, WWI, nearly a hundred years ago. It’s a personal tale full of humor, courage, friendship, and more love than war.
This is my favorite book by Hemingway, one of my favorite authors of all time.
This is one of my favorite books, one which I return to stoke some wanderlust or simply to provide some comfort. Paris, the journey to Pamplona, fishing in Spain; a worthy introduction to Hemingway if you’ve never read him!
I genuinely appreciated this story of a young man trying to find his way in early 20th-century Japan. Japan is like nowhere else in the world, and Mishima, one of Japan’s most revered writers, captures that beauty through the written word.
Another one of those reads that reminds me of a time and place. When I read this eerie and strange novel set on an island in Greece, I turned its pages, worn and yellow yet so full of life, and imagined swimming in the azure sea of the Aegean again on my college graduation trip. My mind conjured past adventures, and foreign ones to come. This is a truly fascinating page-turner.
Shibumi is one of those international man of mystery, Batman/James Bond-esque stories. Yet it has a Japanese, philosophical flair that shaped me in a way.
Historical fiction is the banana and peanut butter and cinnamon and honey to my jelly. This incredible series of medieval lore is up there with the best. Bricklayers and villages and war; cathedrals and bandits and wool.
Set in WWII France, this epic story had me gripped from start to finish. Kristin Hannah is one of the most prolific and talented writers of our day, and this book was definitely one of the first to stoke my love for historical fiction and reading in general.
Eragon was one of my favorite books as a kid, yet I enjoyed it even more now as an adult and devoured the entire series, which I never finished before. The themes are so much more potent now, for I can see the writer behind the words and what he grapples with.
The themes are sophisticated and insightful, especially as a young man striving to find my way in the world. Plus, dragons. Elves. Dwarves. An incredible world to lose yourself in. If you aren’t into fantasy, my purpose of adding Eragon to the list is to implore you to read a book you loved when you were young.
I’ll attest that the magic hasn’t faded; we could all use some magic in our lives right now.
Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1932, giving readers a dark dystopian world stripped of the hardships that make life, life. I believe what we truly want in this world — meaning, place, the longing for beauty in its simplest form — have remained unchanged since the book was written. In the book, citizens are given place and purpose along with their creation. There’s no reason to search for it themselves.
Nobody gets through life without hardship, whether they show it on the outside or not. But what would we be without pain? Discomfort gives life depth, it feeds our spirit. Everyday victories are something to treasure when we know what it feels like to hurt. Pain makes life a beautiful journey worth enduring. This book, in an deep and artistic way, shows us why.
In this eerily futuristic tale of a color-coded Milky Way civilization, high-born Golds dominate. Reds, those at the bottom of the social hierarchy, toil the mines of Mars. The trilogy’s main character, Darrow, is a Red. He’s out to forever change the universe and I feel I’m out there with him.
A short collection of eerie science fiction tales written by David Rees-Thomas, my English teaching mentor, upon arrival in Japan, 2022. A well-crafted and thought-provoking read to help you think beyond our planet.