8 Books that Have Actually Changed My Life
And can hopefully change yours
My love for reading first began when I was a preschooler and my mom read to me before bed. Every night, I would doze off lost in my imagination of mischievous goblins, talking animals, and glistening treasures.
My reading journey began with children's magazines. I still vividly remember how I would jump in glee whenever my monthly copies of Tinkle, Chandamama, and Champak were delivered.
Well, we’ve come a long way since then.
Over the course of the years, I have devoured hundreds of books across different genres — fantasy fiction, mystery, classic fiction, philosophy, psychology, history, etc.
Of the hundreds I’ve read, every book has had some or other impact on me but only 8 of them have been truly life-changing.
Each of these books has done one or more of these three things — Greatly expanded my perspective, fundamentally changed me from within, or drastically improved my knowledge.
Without further ado, here are those 8 books.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl met with one of the worst imaginable fates.
During the Holocaust, he was captured and locked up in a concentration camp with inhuman living conditions — starvation, cold, extreme work, and torture.
Along with the soul-stirring story of his struggle, Frankl taught me that the primary motivational force in human beings was the will to meaning.
The ones with the highest willpower were the first ones to break and lose their sanity.
Reuniting with his loved ones, living to tell the tale, and helping the other prisoners find their own purpose gave Frankl a strong sense of purpose and allowed him to find meaning in his suffering.
It was exactly this and not willpower that helped him persevere. In fact, Frankl says that the ones with the highest willpower were the first ones to break and lose their sanity.
Willpower is a limited resource but the drive you get from meaning and purpose is unlimited. Since reading this book, “meaning” has become one of my core values and I try to find it in everything I do.
Willpower is a limited resource but the drive you get from meaning and purpose is unlimited.
A lifelong question finally answered
“What is the meaning of life?”, is a question that I have pondered over all my life.
When I was bullied in middle school, life felt meaningless. When I fell in love for the first time, she was the meaning of life. When I got heartbroken, life again lost its meaning. When I drastically changed as a person, achieving my goals became the meaning of life.
Every time I thought I had found an answer, turned out I hadn’t. This book finally helped me find an answer.
“Ultimately, a man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life, he can only respond by being responsible.”
This was a groundbreaking and freeing idea for me — Life doesn’t have any inherent meaning, so the onus is on us to find and give our lives meaning.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
When I was done reading The Fountainhead, I knew I had to read Atlas Shrugged.
And Atlas Shrugged often called the magnum opus of Ayn Rand, completely transformed me.
The way Ayn wove together an emotionally stirring and amazing story with her philosophy Objectivism made both the story more compelling and her ideas more powerful.
One man said that he would stop the motor of the world and then disappeared. But the motors are stopping. The producers of the world are stopping.
A productive genius becomes a worthless playboy, a philosopher becomes a pirate, a composer gives up his career on the night of his triumph, an oil baron torches his oil fields, the richest banker liquidates his entire business.
In a world driven by freeloaders and rapidly descending into chaos, two strive to hold it together — a woman who runs a transcontinental railway and a man who is arguably the biggest steel tycoon in the world.
The philosophy that would change me the most
With love, passion, suspense, hope, betrayal, power, etc. this book makes a powerful read. The concepts of Objectivism such as the heroic of man, the importance of individualism, treating everything as a trade, etc. are evident from the start.
But when the man who stopped the motor of the world explains why he decided to do so, I was drawn in and that was when the ideas of Objectivism truly resonated with me.
What intrigued me the most about Objectivism was how controversial, powerful, and “anti-conventional” its ideas are.
In a world that preached sacrifice, altruism, believing, and living for the sake of others as virtues, Objectivism propounded self-interest, trusting only one’s own reason, living for one’s own sake, and pursuing one’s own happiness as virtues.
The fear of being labeled selfish used to make me hesitate to say no but now that being selfish was part of my identity, it became a breeze.
It was the experiences of my life, reading this book and reading more about Objectivism that allowed me to grasp the depth of her ideas which at face value, seem evil.
Despite most of it appealing to me, I still find Objectivism extremely dogmatic and don’t agree with all of its ideas. But this philosophy has transformed my belief system to an extent that no other has.
I became happier, more mindful of my mental makeup, surer of my core beliefs and values, and overall, mentally firmer. Also, the fear of being labeled selfish used to make me hesitate to say no but now that being selfish was part of my identity, it became a breeze.
If you find these ideas revolting, I highly recommend reading this book. Without proper context, it’s easy to wrongly interpret their meaning.
Even if you don’t care about Objectivism or philosophy in general, the extremely compelling story, characters, and narration make this a worthwhile read.
1984 by George Orwell
I remember finishing this book, having my hair blown back a kilometer, and silently going to bed only to stay awake all night.
No, I am not kidding, that’s just how powerful the book is.
The dystopian world portrayed in it is so damn perfect that it’s outright scary. In this world, war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.
Big Brother, the omnipotent “ruler” feared by everyone doesn’t even exist. There’s a perpetual war to maintain “peace”. The past is constantly rewritten. Every single thought is monitored. “Newspeak”, the official language curbs and seeks to eventually eliminate thinking.
War is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.
And the scariest part is how possible these seemingly outlandish things are.
This one book taught me more about totalitarianism, world politics, the dynamics of power, human psychology, etc. more than any class could.
Moreover, very few books have expanded my perspective as much as this one has. Even if you don’t care about politics or power, the compelling story makes it a worthwhile read.
Sapiens: A Brief History Of Mankind by Yuval Noah Harari
The first time I picked up Sapiens, I quit it after the first few pages. But thanks to a friend’s nagging, I gave it another shot.
The first fifty pages or so felt boring but after that, I was hooked.
It was a long read and my first thought after completing it was, “How in the world can a human being produce a piece of work like this?”
Calling the book a masterpiece would be a gross understatement. No book has widened my perspective and increased my knowledge as much as this has. I doubt any book ever will.
Starting from the time we were chimps, this book covers evolution, religion, cultures, politics, empires, wars, capitalism, technology and ends with a scary glimpse into the future.
No, not in the manner of a detail-heavy boring encyclopedia but in the manner of a compelling narration that makes you go “Wow that’s deep”, “This makes so much sense.”, “Holy cow!” every now and then.
If you could read only two books in your life, I would recommend reading this twice.
Aptly titled Sapiens, I can vouch that this book will be able to answer almost any and every question you would have ever had about our species, Homo Sapiens.
If you could read only one book in your life, I would recommend this. And if you could read only two books in your life, I would recommend reading this twice.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
I am not a big fan of self-help. Never have been. But the sheer amount of positive reviews and my reading buddies swearing by it made me pick this book up.
And I am extremely glad I did.
This goldmine of a book completely transformed the way I thought of and looked at habits.
From redefining habits to providing a comprehensive and practical framework to easily build good habits and break bad ones, James Clear had clearly done an incredible job with this book.
Wanting to test what I learned, I decided to try to brush my teeth every night — a habit that I had struggled for years to stick to. It has been close to a year since then and I haven’t missed even a single night.
Yes, not even a single night. And when I became inconsistent with working out, it was what I learned from this book that helped me easily bounce back.
This book works. Period. Do yourself a favor and read it.
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
Less than a year ago, I knew nothing about nothing when it came to the subject of finance.
It was an intimidating thing with intense number crunching, charts, and serious immaculately dressed people clutching suitcases.
Now I feel at home with it.
There’s still a lot to learn, but I’ve certainly come a long way all thanks to Rich Dad Poor Dad.
No, it hasn’t taught me everything I know about finance, not even close.
The path to financial independence didn’t need high paychecks, miserly expenditure, or even brains.
But, like a helpful guide, it took me by my hand, led me into the world of finance, taught me the fundamentals, and inspired me to explore this brave new world.
It showed me that the path to financial independence didn’t need high paychecks, miserly expenditure, or even brains. All it required was a basic understanding of very basic things.
If you are a complete beginner in money-related matters, this is the best place to start.
Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis
It was the name of this book that intrigued me enough to give it a read. I am glad I did as this book showed me a side of money that I didn’t even know existed.
John, the protagonist is obese, unhealthy, drunk almost all day, heavily indulges in porn and sex, engages in street fights, and is filthy rich.
He absolutely hates his life and feels miserable all day. John’s life is ugly, he uses the money to make it uglier and he wants to earn more money to make it even uglier.
Money isn’t money
The book is raw, shocking, unapologizing, and profound. I learned that money wasn’t just money. There was good money and there was bad money. The former makes you happy while the latter makes you miserable.
John’s life is ugly, he uses the money to make it uglier and he wants to earn more money to make it even uglier.
John didn’t “earn” his money but rather got it “easy” through illegal and wrong means. Unearned money is most often bad money and neither does bad money make you happy nor does it last long. No wonder 70% of lottery winners go bankrupt within 5 years.
Money gets its value not from its denominations but rather from the means through which you get it.
The actual value of money
I earned $1.4 in my first month on medium and this amount felt much more valuable than the 500 rupee note (around $70) I had found on a pavement a few days back.
Money gets its value not from its denominations but rather from the means through which you get it.
If I were offered a million dollars. I wouldn’t take it. Or maybe I would but it wouldn’t afford me any happiness. Sure, it would afford me a lot of pleasure but pleasure is not happiness.
I would use it to buy myself “independence” and do things I love — like writing on Medium and earning $1.4.
Deep Work by Cal Newport
What Atomic Habits is to habit-forming, Deep Work is to productive work.
Half of the book is devoted to explaining the import of deep work. Cal exhaustively draws support from research and experience.
It’s a good thing as it’s much more convincing than something like, “Hey, it’s Cal! Working deep to drastically improve your productivity.”
Just a few pages in, I discovered that I had been implementing a rudimentary form of “deep work” since a very young age.
I soon realized that what I thought of as deep work wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg.
I topped every exam throughout school and the average number of hours I’ve studied in a day is 1–2, a bit higher say 3–4 the day before exams which is definitely much lesser than the average. But most of those hours were deep.
Excited, I continued to plow through the book. I soon realized that what I thought of as deep work wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg.
The single best productivity tool
Deciding to test out what I learned, I applied it to writing. I finished 2 drafts in less than 2 hours. To put things into perspective, it usually takes me 3 to 4 hours to complete one.
And the quality of those 2 drafts was much better than my usual ones. To quote Newport,
“Deep work cannot be equalled by shallow work. Even 5 hours of shallow work wouldn’t be able to match an hour of deep work. It’s like comparing the sum total of the back to back performances of 5 mediocre singers to a single performance of an exemplary singer.”
Deep work is basically pushing the mind to its cognitive limits. The result much better results in a much better time. But it’s not as simple and easy as flipping a “turn on deep work mode” switch in your brain.
This is where this book really shines. Just as Atomic Habits gives a masterful framework for habits, this one gives a similar framework for deep work.
But it’s not as simple and easy as flipping a “turn on deep work mode” switch in your brain.
I finished reading this book just a few days back but as and as and when I learned something from the book, I put it into practice. And already, the results have been nothing short of surprising.
I plan on integrating deep work into my life and also coming back to this book from time to time. So despite not having been as life-changing as the others as of now, it might prove to be the most life-changing in the long run.
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